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New Summer Program Targets First-Gen Students

Ursinus is introducing prospective college students from rural areas to a liberal arts curriculum through its new Freedom, Citizenship and Equality summer program. It is funded by the Teagle Foundation for $165,000 over three years.  

The program aims to acquaint the high school students with college using Ursinus’s flagship Common Intellectual Experience (CIE)—a year-long seminar for first-year Ursinus students—as a foundation. The first cohort of high school students for the two-week intensive academic experience, which begins in July, will come from Upper Perkiomen High School in Pennsburg, Montgomery County.  

“This is the kind of program that can serve as a pipeline to undergraduate liberal arts colleges like Ursinus,” says Paul Stern, a professor of politics who will co-lead the summer program at Ursinus with Ellen Dawley, a professor of biology, and Christian Rice, a visiting assistant professor of philosophy and religion and assistant dean for civic engagement.

The high school students will also be mentored by current Ursinus College students and will receive college credit upon successful completion of the program. Stern says he hopes to introduce the students to an inquiry-based education that prepares them to become informed individuals and responsible citizens.

“It’s a great benefit to students to have the college experience—and particularly, a liberal arts experience—before they even get to college and participate in discussions that touch on political and ethical issues,” Stern says. “What makes this program unique is what’s at the heart of the syllabus: The Common Intellectual Experience. The students will read primary documents like the Declaration of Independence, study speeches by people like Frederick Douglass and think about what citizenship means.”

“It’s what colleges like Ursinus can do to address the polarization that exists in our society today and get students thinking about freedom and equality in a serious way from a young age,” he says.

Programs like this, Stern says, help improve first-to-second-year retention rates for students because they’ve had a pre-college experience that introduces them to a rigorous college curriculum.

Ursinus also engages with high school students in college preparatory programs through its Crigler program for students from underserved populations, and its FUTURE program, which brings to campus promising young students in the sciences prior to their first year of college.

“The value of a program like this, at Ursinus College in particular, is that it helps set students on a path to self-discovery and how they define themselves as an American,” says Ava Willis-Barksdale executive director of corporate, foundation and government relations at Ursinus.

The new Ursinus Freedom, Citizenship and Equality program is modeled after a similar intensive summer program for high school students established at Columbia University decades ago.

The Teagle Foundation works to support and strengthen liberal arts education, which it views as fundamental to meaningful work, effective citizenship and a fulfilling life. —By Ed Moorhouse