Martin Announces Plans to Help Low-Income Students
Issue   |   Wed, 01/29/2014 - 01:00

Following a White House summit attended by President Biddy Martin and other college presidents on Jan. 16, the College is stepping up its efforts to increase college access and success for low-income students.

At the summit, President Obama met with over 100 college presidents as well as other leaders in higher education to discuss strategies for helping students from low-income families to lead successful college careers.

Amherst is already nationally recognized as a leader in its efforts to recruit low-income and minority students. At the White House, President Martin announced four new initiatives that will build upon these efforts and also further extend the College’s outreach into the local community. Specifically, Martin described plans to help Native American students attend college, to improve college access for local low-income students, to encourage low-income students to major in STEM fields and to enhance the experience of low-income students at Amherst.

Many of these initiatives are not entirely new; they build upon substantial work that has already been taken by the Admissions Office and the Center for Community Engagement, along with other offices on campus.

“This is years in the making,” said Associate Dean of Admission Leykia Brill of the Admissions Office’s efforts. “I’m so glad my boss, Tom Parker, said, ‘Yes, go for it.’” After President Martin received the invitation from the White House, Brill spoke to her about the initiatives the Admissions Office had already been planning.

Among these initiatives is a special program for Native American students that will be a part of the Diversity Open Houses (DIVOH) that Amherst hosts each fall. In its current form, the DIVOH program hosts a select group of low-income, first-generation and minority high school seniors who stay on campus for a weekend and attend classes, admissions workshops and information sessions. The College hosts DIVOH attendees in dorm rooms with current students and covers 100 percent of the attendees’ transportation costs.

The new plan is to add an extra night of programming just for Native American students, where attendees will be able to talk with current Native students and faculty, as well as representatives from Native organizations within the Five Colleges. Brill said the program will be open to Native students nationwide, but will be targeted more toward Native students in the New England area, because it will be easier for New England students to travel to Amherst on a Friday night.

In addition to the extended DIVOH programming, the College has offered to partner with College Horizons, an organization that conducts college admissions workshops for Native students from throughout the U.S. Brill said she hopes the College will be able to host one of these workshops in the summer of 2015 or 2016.

Additionally, the Admissions Office will make use of its student Telementors to help guide Native students throughout the college application process. The Telementors are a group of current Amherst students from low-income and minority backgrounds who mentor students trying to apply to college through the QuestBridge program. QuestBridge is a competitive program in which low-income students can apply for the chance to earn a full scholarship to one of the elite colleges who partner with the program.

“We help them with the entire application process, from choosing where to apply to helping out with essays,” said Rachel Nghe ’16 of her role as a Telementor.

Christian Aviles ’14, another Telementor, noted that as a mentor he can provide crucial information that many students from under-resourced communities lack.

“In the past, mentees I’ve had have had no support from their school in terms of writing workshops and personal statements,” Aviles said. “They don’t know where to start when writing an essay.”

Aviles also stressed that the Telementors can be helpful in encouraging high-achieving students to apply to elite colleges.

“When I talk to them about the colleges they’re interested in, a lot of times it’s the colleges in their area,” he said. “They shy away from applying to these top notch schools.”

Brill said she hopes the Telementors will also be able to help mentor Native American students who are not applying through QuestBridge.

The Admissions Office will also work alongside the Center Community Engagement in the second initiative by helping local low-income students get on a path toward college.

“We have already met with the Superintendent of the Amherst Regional Public Schools and have also had conversations with key administrators in the Holyoke Public Schools,” said Molly Mead, director of the Center for Community Engagement. “Conversations with Springfield educational leaders will follow in the next few weeks.”

Mead noted that all the school districts already have programs in place to help guide their students towards college, and that any initiative undertaken in partnership with the College would have to build upon these existing programs. Some ideas that have been discussed include creating a mentor program for high school students, offering support for parents and helping to ensure that faculty and staff are successful in their efforts to support students undergoing the college process.

Brill said that the Admissions Office has already been heavily involved in outreach to the local community.

“We do a ton of what I would consider service work,” Brill said. The Admissions Office holds essay writing and application workshops for local students and also presents at college fairs in the area. Brill said that even if many of the students are unlikely to attend Amherst College, she hopes the Admissions Office will be able to help local students see the possibilities that are open to them in higher education.

“It’s something we do because we know that they need the exposure,” she said, adding that many students may not necessarily think of college as a possibility for them.

A third component of Amherst’s efforts to help low-income students is the attempt to get low-income students and students of color interested in science and math fields. The Admissions Office has been partnering with Ventures Scholars, a program that helps low-income, first generation and underrepresented minority students to pursue careers in math and science. Additionally, the College hopes to increase the number of low-income students who major in science and math fields once they get to Amherst.

Finally, in another initiative aimed at low-income students already at the College, the school hopes to increase the number of low-income students who study abroad, have internships, participate in independent research and write senior theses. According to the Office of Public Affairs, there is research to support the idea that students who participate in these activities will be more successful in college.

Work on all four initiatives has already begun, and the Admissions Office and Center for Community Engagement will be among the many groups on campus helping to carry out these plans in the coming months.

“I am pleased that the White House has recognized Amherst for its success in recruiting low-income and underrepresented students, in making an Amherst education affordable for them, and for retention and graduation rates that equal those of the student body as a whole,” President Martin told the Office of Public Affairs. “We are eager to take on additional challenges aimed at ensuring that all our students take advantage of high-impact learning opportunities at Amherst, while working with partners to increase the number of low-income students in our region who go to college.”