Posted: May 2, 2007
Students from Holyoke Community College have been studying math at Mount Holyoke this year as part of MHC's effort to reach out to community college students to support and encourage them to transfer to selective four-year schools. The course, emphasizing problem solving and quantitative reasoning, is taught by James Morrow, lecturer in mathematics, and Charlene Morrow, lecturer in psychology and education. The seminar is part of a larger initiative funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to help high-achieving, low- and moderate-income students prepare to enter four-year schools. Mount Holyoke received $779,000 from the grant, and the College is contributing an additional $2 million in financial aid and costs towards the initiative.
The Morrows' course, which was offered both fall and spring semesters, aims to develop some of the skills students will need in order to continue on in mathematics, statistics, or quantitatively based courses such as economics, sociology, or psychology. According to Charlene Morrow, they decided to focus on math because "it is an area that students often feel anxious and fearful about, especially if they have been away from school for a while."
Each student also develops a quantitative skills action plan for the remainder of their community college experience. The plan includes tactics about how to become a more independent learner, how to find support when taking challenging courses, and how to prepare for the challenges of taking mathematics and other quantitative courses at selective colleges. HCC students receive substantial support from the Pathways Program at Holyoke Community College that helps them navigate the application process to four-year schools and prepare for making choices about continuing their education. In addition to working with the Morrows, students also meet current Frances Perkins Scholars who serve as mentors to the HCC students.
"One of the important things about this class is its confidence-building aspect. The students we are teaching are wonderful, smart, lively, and motivated, but many are very intimidated by the idea of being at Mount Holyoke--or a college like MHC," Charlene Morrow said. "Coming to campus, having MHC mentors who are friendly, supportive, and excited about working with them, and being successful in the seminar is very helpful in creating a vision of high aspirations and success beyond HCC."
Like many of the students who took the course, Jessica Santiago had never thought of attending a college like Mount Holyoke. But through her exposure to the campus and community in taking the Math Transitions course, she decided to apply to the Frances Perkins Program at Mount Holyoke and has been accepted for fall 2007. Santiago had attended American University for a semester before being deployed as an Army National Guard soldier in Washington, DC, from 2003 to 2004. Following her deployment, she wasn't ready to return to school until 2005, when she started at Holyoke Community College. She was referred to the Math Transitions Seminar by Irma Medina FP '04, the coordinator of the Pathways Program at HCC, and then met the Morrows and the directors of the Frances Perkins Program.
"I honestly didn't know what to expect, and I certainly didn't expect people to be so interested in me and where I continued my education. I was simply interested in exploring my options and being involved in as much as I could," Santiago said. "The Math Transitions Seminar was not about math. It was about challenging my way of thinking; the experience left me with new friends and an interest in the MHC community."
Last March, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation joined with three public universities and five private colleges and universities, including Mount Holyoke and Amherst Colleges, to invest $27 million to markedly increase the opportunities for high-achieving, low- and moderate-income community college students to earn bachelor's degrees from selective four-year institutions, according to foundation materials. It is the largest shared investment to date by leading colleges and universities to overcome the lack of opportunities these students have to attend such schools.
Some of Mount Holyoke's other initiatives to provide more access include having Carolyn Dietel, associate director of the Frances Perkins Program and coordinator of transfer affairs, travel to community colleges around the country in an effort to recruit both traditional- and nontraditional-aged students. The grant also allowed Mount Holyoke to pay the transportation costs for students from around the country, who wouldn't ordinarily have the opportunity to travel to Mount Holyoke, to come and see the campus during the transfer students' preview weekend in February.