In a year filled with much uncertainty and few opportunities for normalcy, five Clark undergraduates went out of their way to reach out to area high school seniors and help them focus on something more intimidating than the raging pandemic — pursuing their futures as prospective college students.
Clark is one of several schools that participates in the Collegiate Success Institute in collaboration with Massachusetts Education and Career Opportunities, Inc.; the program enables Clark students to work with high school seniors at Worcester’s Claremont Academy to help them complete college applications. According to Andrea Lucy Allen of the Adam Institute for Urban Teaching and School Practice, the program facilitator, all of the students at Claremont are first-generation college-goers and most of them are English language learners. Students who participate in the program typically spent hours mentoring the high school students, reviewing forms and discussing college life; however, the pandemic made such in-person mentoring impossible.
In March, when the University went virtual due to COVID, the CSI program was canceled. When the fall semester began, Olivia Shull ’22, who had expressed an interest in the program earlier in the year, suggested to Allen they conduct the program virtually.
“I advised her that it would be tough for me to offer credit for the program, as I had done in the past. Olivia didn’t care … she just wanted to help,” said Allen.
“I know that online school can be challenging and not having a physical school environment can make it more difficult to focus and stay motivated,” wrote Shull. In the current environment, students might need help more than ever, especially with a difficult process like pursuing college, she thought.
“I think the idea of college is really intimidating to many high school students, especially to those who do not have family or friends who can provide that information,” wrote Shull. “I think that CSI helped show that college does not have to be scary and really intense all of the time.”
Once Allen agreed to run the program virtually, four other students — Ravi Rao ’21, Emily Dorsey ’22, Matthew Thomas Young ’23, and Kelly O’Brien ’22 — also readily agreed to serve as mentors.
For Dorsey, a first-generation college student, the decision to help was easy.
“I know how challenging and isolating the college application process can be during normal circumstances,” wrote Dorsey. “With the experiences I had applying to college, I felt that those challenges would only be heightened due to Covid-19 and the complete isolation we are all facing, and this pushed me to want to help students at Claremont as a friendly face to be there for them.”
While in high school, Rao participated in an afterschool program that helped him with his college applications, so he wanted to do the same.
“I wanted to help students and give my experience in college that I have had so far,” wrote Rao.
He was familiar with, and comfortable mentoring this age group too; in addition to previously volunteering with CSI, he had logged numerous hours volunteering in the Worcester schools.
Allen said that with the help of the Clark students, the vast majority of the Claremont seniors applied to multiple colleges and had the opportunity to find out what college is like both socially and academically. This kind of experience, Allen said, would “help a student abundantly with transitioning to college and becoming successful once there.”
As Allen shared the story of these Clark mentors with others across campus, and described how selflessly the Clark students approached the task of mentoring the teens even amidst their own rigorous academic and work schedules, others echoed her sentiment but none seemed surprised. Associate Provost and Dean of the College Betsy Huang said it was “an example of the best of the altruism of Clarkies.”