College Summit works to help more students attend, complete college

July 12, 2010

When both of Allison Gary's parents lost their jobs last winter, the Indianapolis teenager refused to let the news get her down.

"I looked at it in a little different way. It motivated me to get a job and help my family," said Gary, who will be a senior this fall at Decatur Central High School. "I'm working now and I'm better prepared for the future and more motivated."

Gary's family has now rebounded from her parents' January job losses. Her mom and dad have found new work, though for less pay, and Gary is more determined than ever to accomplish something her parents started but never completed.

"Neither of then finished college, but now I have even more motivation to be the first generation of my family to graduate," she said. Gary plans to attend Indiana State University and major in pre-law.

She also has another goal for when classes resume next month at Decatur Central. She'll be working with an organization called College Summit to help classmates who may not have considered themselves college material realize they, too, need an education beyond high school, and they can overcome perceived cultural and financial challenges to make it happen.

Gary is exactly the kind of person College Summit looks for - typical students with leadership potential, said J.T. Ferguson, regional executive director. That's why she was selected as one of 35 Indianapolis-area high school seniors to attend a workshop that wrapped up Sunday at Indiana State. The workshop helps participants fine tune their own college plans and trains them to help others do the same.

"We look for the mid-tier students - the football player or the student on the chess team," Ferguson said. "The valedictorian has spoken and half the students didn't listen. The College Summit student isn't just a recipient of the program, they're drivers of change. This program works with that average student who has the ability to motivate and empower other typical students."

Students who took part in the workshop completed an intensive four days of classes taught by young people who themselves took part in College Summit. They learned how to develop a personal statement that will help to guide and motivate them. They also learned how to cut through the myths and red tape and see that college is still affordable despite the "sticker shock" many first generation families experience when they see the cost of tuition and fees.

"The personal statement was intimidating at first but writing it helped me to develop my leadership skills," said Trenee Lambert of Indianapolis, a 2007 College Summit alumna and 2008 graduate of Emmerich Manual High School.

"I started with a simple sentence about watching a butterfly flutter by the window and wondering where that butterfly was going," said Lambert, now a student at Indiana University. "By the end of the day, I had fine tuned and expanded it into a statement about leadership."

Lambert said she returned to College Summit as a counselor in order to "get the greatest experience I can. It's a community. It's like family. We all work together. If you participate, you can make it."

Jose Guerrero of Brooklyn, N.Y., a social work major at the University of Staten Island, said his participation in a 2008 workshop in Connecticut turned his life around and he's happy to do his part to help motivate current participants.

"Because of my grades and behavior when I was in high school, college was originally not an option for me," he said. "But College Summit helped me realize there are people who care about me. Once I realized that and that I could do it, I turned my life around quickly."

Hearing other people's stories of change makes a difference in students, said Janae Crockett of Prince George's County, Md.

"I was able to bond with people just like me. I like to listen to people with stories and learn from them so I wanted to work with other kids. I think they'll be affected the same way. I'm trying to give them the confidence that they need to succeed," she said

Using a curriculum that provides real-time data on the progress of participating students throughout their senior years of high school, College Summit helps participants determine how to look for a college or university that is the best fit for them and then how to make their way through the application and financial aid processes, Ferguson said.

"We want to make sure that when students graduate from high school they have a diploma in one hand and a game plan in the other," he said.

College Summit has data to suggest its program is working. Participants show a 15-20 percent increase in college attendance within three years, Ferguson said.

This marked Indiana State's first year as a host institution for a College Summit peer leader workshop.

"When we were approached last year to be one of only a handful of Indiana postsecondary institutions hosting a workshop, we jumped at the opportunity," said John Beacon, ISU's vice president for enrollment management, marketing, and communications. "College Summit is helping to make college a reality for many students who might otherwise not have the opportunity. It is helping Indiana strengthen its most valuable resource - it's future leaders."

Once they've seen the Indiana State campus, those high school peer leaders can also serve as ambassadors for the university, said Harold "Soup" Campbell, an ISU admissions counselor.

"They'll realize what we have to offer - a growing state university that still offers smaller class sizes and a really attractive campus. If we can get some of them hooked, they'll go back and say, ‘You've got to check out ISU.' These 35 students participating in College Summit can impact hundreds more," he said.

Photos: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/932083822_BXCxw-L.jpg - A College Summit workshop at Indiana State University helped 35 high school students say "yes" to the question asked on this participant's T-shirt.
http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/932219371_gTKvM-L.jpg - Allison Gary of Indianapolis is among high school students who took part in a College Summit peer leader workshop at Indiana State University.
http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/932084824_ms5jK-L.jpg - Trenee Lambert (left), a past participant in College Summit, and Allison Gary, both of Indianapolis, were among participants in a four-day workshop at Indiana State University designed to train current high school students such as Gary as peer leaders who will help classmates develop their own plans for attending - and completing - college.

Contact: J.T. Ferguson, executive director, College Summit-Indiana, jtferguson@collegesummit.com or Harold "Soup" Campbell, admissions counselor, Indiana State University, 812-237-2121or harold.campbell@indstate.edu

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu