By SARAH SMITH
The Student Transition Program, a University sponsored five-week, two-class summer session for select incoming freshman, took a record 62 participants this year. As a program that promotes diversity at Mary Washington, the unprecedented participation coincides with a five percent increase in diversity among incoming freshman, according to Academic Services.
“I think we got to experience college before it even started,” freshman Prakriti Khanal said of her experience over the summer.
According to STP Director Dean Leah Cox, the program has been a part of Mary Washington for two decades, and exists in other universities across the state. Originally funded by the State Higher Education Board, budget cuts caused the state to withdraw backing seven years ago. At that time, the University decided the program was important enough to maintain without state financial help.
Over the years, there have been approximately 30 students each summer in the program. In 2008, Cox became director of the program and broadened it to include a course, Education 101. The class gives the students the opportunity to receive additional guidance during the school year and find out how best to use the university’s resources.
According to Rita Thompson, assistant dean of admissions, President Judy Hample increased the STP staff, enabling them to admit more students. In summer of 2009, 62 students were admitted into the program.
Thompson said she looks at many factors when it comes to inviting students. Freshmen that are chosen to participate receive notice with their admissions letters.
“We’re looking for certain things in their background,” Thompson said. “A lot of schools may not have APs or an International Baccalaureate program. Some students don’t have as much access and other students do not have the opportunity to take higher level courses, and they aren’t coming in with seven or 10 AP courses.”
For some students, their acceptance to the University was contingent on their participation in STP.
“The program is designed to help prepare students for college life, and without the program, although they are very bright, they might not do as well,” Thompson said.
The students each take two classes free of charge, giving them the opportunity to experience the teaching styles, workloads and time management of college classes.
“Looking back, I’m seeing real benefits,” freshman Kellen Latif said. “It put us ahead of the game. We were actually in the classroom and we were able to see how it would be when we started in the fall.”
“They rise to the occasion over the summer,” Thompson said.
Freshman Joanna Park found the fall semester to be less stressful than the summer courses. The academic preparation she had received during STP enabled her to adjust well to the start of freshman year.
“When I came here, it wasn’t hard to settle in,” Park said. “Classes were a lot more pressured during STP.”
In addition to becoming acclimated to the University’s academic environment, the students also got the opportunity to bond. They participated in team-building activities and got a chance to get know each other before the beginning of the fall semester.
Khanal said that being able to say hello to her fellow STP participants during orientation week made her feel comfortable. To know 60 people as an incoming freshman is helpful, Latif said.
STP participants also described the upperclassmen counselors as supportive and helpful, and said they advised the incoming freshmen on choosing their schedules.
Many student participants said that the program not only benefits the individuals that participated, but also helps the University to incorporate greater diversity into its community.
“The program is trying to fill gap in diversity at UMW… I think it’s beneficial to the school,” Khanal said.
Freshman Tyshawnda Silver said the program brought people closer together. She said she enjoyed “just seeing a group of minorities, a diverse group of people, under one roof [that] have to learn how to like each other.”
Thompson noted Hample’s role in encouraging a more diverse student body and the effect on UMW as a whole.
“I think the program incorporates diversity,” Thompson said. “I think we’re moving forward under the leadership of Dr. Hample. I think everybody will enjoy the cultural environment here…I think it is beneficial to the whole community.”
“We think they [the students in STP] are going to be great,” she added. “They have great leadership and great experiences.”
Cox said the program’s objective is to acclimate students to the college academic environment.
“It’s a way of recruiting and retaining students…They’re passing.,” she said. “They’re succeeding. They’re graduating.”