October 23, 2016
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1st Generation Youth Imagine A Future In College




RICHARDSON, TX - Essays and tests are hardly the stuff that teen summer dreams are made of, but include that hard work in a longer-term vision, and a group of high school students was willing to accept the challenge.

Most participants in UT Dallas’ College Readiness Initiative (CRI) hope to be the first members of their families to attend college, and the program works to give students who have that dream the support they need to complete a degree.

Sixteen-year-old R’lexus Collins of A. Maceo Smith High School found UT Dallas to be a little daunting when she first visited in July.  “Being on a college campus was new and huge, and kind of scary at first,” she said. “But after I worked with my mentor Ishar Ma from the Academic Bridge Program, it was better.”

CRI students spent each morning in SAT prep, but learning how to master college entrance exams wasn’t the only thing on the daily schedule. Beyond the importance of SAT scores, analytical thinking and leadership skills also were emphasized.

“The three numbers that we consider very important in going to college are class rank, GPA and SAT score. We want to make sure that when it is time to apply to college they will have the right numbers to open the door, the right combination to get them in,” said Cornelia McCowan, CRI program supervisor. “But to be successful, there are other skills they need as well.”

Jarrell Brown, a 15-year-old from South Oak Cliff High, had an eye-opening experience at the CRI Reality Store, a simulation designed to illustrate how daily life differs for those without a college education. Participants were given checkbooks and assigned jobs that didn’t require college degrees. From their limited wages, they had to pay bills and cover emergency expenses like being hospitalized.

 “I had two baby boys to take care of and was quickly in debt,” said Brown. “Through this exercise I learned that without a degree, life is hard.”

Students became empowered in two weeks, but the CRI is after long-term results.  They will meet during the school year when conversations about self-awareness and community service will supplement those about grades. Next summer, when the students are rising juniors, the conversation will involve financial aid options.

Most of the students participating this summer were the first in their families to study in a college classroom, and the CRI has shown them new opportunities.

“The students are discovering a new American dream,” said George Fair, dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and director of the Academic Bridge Program. “By preparing for college and completing their undergraduate education, their futures are limited only by their imagination and determination.”

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