Date April 14, 2022
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College Day at Brown gives Providence high schoolers a glimpse of academic and campus life

With an eye toward fueling interest in post-secondary education, faculty, staff and students across Brown gave city students a chance to experience classes, community engagement opportunities, social activities and more.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — April is always bustling at Brown University. As the weather warms and students prep for the final weeks of classes, nearly 1,000 people visit campus each day to take tours, attend events or participate in A Day on College Hill, where admitted students decide whether Brown is their best fit. 

Yet on Thursday, April 14, even amid all the existing hubbub, it was hard to miss one particular group of visitors.

High school students from an array of schools in Providence arrived on a fleet of yellow school buses, flooding onto the sidewalk in front of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center. They greeted each other warmly, the sounds of their laughter carrying across the College Green. They poured into the Salomon Center for Teaching, cheered boisterously and waved Brown pennants as University President Christina H. Paxson invited them to express their excitement for the day ahead.

It was College Day at Brown, a campus-wide event organized by leaders at Brown’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform and the Office of the President.

Soljane Martinez, the Annenberg Institute’s education coordinator, said College Day at Brown aspires to give Providence high school students a taste of life as a college student. Rather than simply taking a campus tour or hearing a talk from an admissions officer, the all-encompassing day of events gives students a glimpse into many of the courses, athletic programs, community engagement opportunities and social activities that Brown offers.

“We wanted to give these students the opportunity to talk face-to-face with Brown students and faculty, to experience what it’s like on the College Green between classes, to see how many clubs and sports and volunteer experiences there are,” Martinez said. “We want to show them what’s out there and fuel their interest in pursuing an education beyond high school — whether that’s a degree at Brown or somewhere else, or whether it’s vocational school in carpentry or construction management.”

College Day is just one of a large and growing number of ways in which Brown engages with Providence schools each year. For decades, the University has worked closely with leaders in Providence to support K-12 education through teaching, training and mentoring, research, volunteer efforts and financial investments aligned with the schools’ priorities. Brown’s engagement helps enrich students’ classroom learning, transform physical spaces, innovate teaching practices and inform local education policy. Area high school students have the opportunity to receive SAT preparation and tutoring from Brown students, participate in summer enrichment programs such as Brown Summer High School and Pre-College, learn drone-based robotics and more.

“ It’s good for students to know that Brown is here, that a place like Brown is an option for them, and that they can fit in on a college campus. ”

Soljane Martinez Education coordinator, Annenberg Institute

Martinez said about 200 students from 10 public and charter high schools across Providence participated in College Day this year — and while many have always planned to attend college, some began the day undecided on their post-graduation plans. Martinez said the event’s goal is to not only plant a seed in the minds of high schoolers from diverse backgrounds, empowering them to seek whatever path might bring them happiness and success as adults, but also to emphasize the accessibility of a college education.

“Many local high school students feel Brown is a place that they can see but they can’t touch,” Martinez said. “It’s good for students to know that Brown is here, that a place like Brown is an option for them, and that they can fit in on a college campus.”

Exploring across the disciplines

College Day kicked off with addresses from Paxson and Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, who both encouraged students to ask questions throughout the event.

“Be engaged, be curious, don’t be shy, and really get to know the campus,” Paxson said. “In the coming years, we want to see you at soccer games, at concerts, walking on the College Green in the afternoon. This is a place where you are welcome.”

Students spent the bulk of College Day attending mini-classes in a variety of subjects, from fluid dynamics to comic-book archiving to community organizing. Each student attended three sessions based on one of three subject focuses they had chosen in advance: liberal arts, social impact or STEM.

In the morning, a group of 20 students on the STEM track peered into microscopes in a geology classroom, studying microfossils that Ph.D. student Kristin Kimble had collected from the Narragansett Bay seafloor. Fossils like these, Kimble explained, were helping scientists at Brown understand how the climate of New England, a region once buried under a mile-high sheet of ice, had changed drastically over the course of millions of years.

Meanwhile, a cadre of liberal arts enthusiasts visited the John Hay Library to browse a vintage comic book collection. Archivist Jordan Jancosek explained that many students and community members use the comics to study changing tastes and social trends by examining the books’ jokes, advertisements and illustration styles. Students began to speculate on what seemingly mundane items today might become items of fascination 100 years from now: TikTok posts, sports jerseys, AirPods.

At the same time, on the east side of campus, social impact-focused students gathered at Brown’s Swearer Center to learn about the many community engagement opportunities available to University students. Two Brown undergraduates, Edie Elliott Granger and Francesca Raoelison, shared their experiences teaching sexual education at area schools and interning with women’s rights advocacy organizations in Providence. One student from the Providence Career and Technical Academy bonded with Raoelison over their shared interest in psychology, while Granger shared tips on researching women’s reproductive issues and citing sources with another high school student who was in the midst of a senior capstone project.

A few hours later, a trio of Classical High School students who had split into different groups reunited to chat about their experiences over lunch at Sharpe Refectory.

“There’s not much opportunity to get to know schools this much,” said Hector Flores, who hopes to study electrical engineering after high school. “Taking part in this is really helping me get to know what the environment is like and what opportunities are here. And learning more about Brown could influence my decision about where else to apply.”

Helen Akinola, who is interested in English literature and graphic design, agreed. 

“I know Brown is a top school, but before today, I didn’t know what it actually felt like to be a student here.” she said. “Getting this experience will really help me decide if it’s the right fit for me.”

Flores, Akinola and their classmate Felisa Alonso, who hopes to become a doctor someday, said they all planned on applying to Brown. 

Step one toward realizing a dream

College Day wasn’t just about getting Providence students inspired to attend college. It was also about helping educators understand what their students need to apply to and succeed at higher education institutions. While students attended mini-classes, high school counselors and other administrators took a tour of campus, joined University leaders for a conversation about admissions and learned more about how to help students make informed decisions when choosing a college.

Kristin De Hertogh, a guidance counselor at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex, said College Day had been a valuable experience for her students and herself. She hoped this would be just one of many future interactions between staff and students at Brown and the surrounding community of K-12 students.

“High schools and higher education in Rhode Island need to be more aligned,” she said. “A lot of students find the application and admissions process to be very difficult, even students who are very academically and emotionally prepared for college. I think the process could be more seamless if we all worked together.”

“ Taking part in this is really helping me get to know what the environment is like [at Brown] and what opportunities are here. ”

Hector Flores Student, Classical High School

Infante-Green agrees. In her opening address, she explained that she wasn’t just there to inspire students to attend college — she was also there to hear directly from students about their needs and struggles.

“What are the things you need to feel prepared?” she asked students in the opening assembly. “We need your voice. Tell your teachers, tell your principals, and tell us what you want the high school experience to be like. We are listening. We are changing.”

Infante-Green expressed hope that College Day helped the students envision themselves on a college or university campus. She asked the audience of teens to picture themselves graduating from high school, then preparing for the undergraduate experience at Brown or another university.

Believing it’s possible, she said, is the first step toward realizing a dream — a lesson she learned when she became the first in her family to attend college.

“Right now, don’t waste the time you have,” Infante-Green said. “Be focused. The dream is bigger, and we are all rooting for you.”