Brown’s Pre-College Programs welcome increasing share of students from Providence

To fuel college access and readiness, Brown University and the Providence Public School District have expanded student outreach and support to recruit and enroll more Providence high school students in Pre-College Programs.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — For high school students, lunch period is often a coveted opportunity to catch up with friends. Yet Omani Cruz — a student at Classical High School in Providence — recalls an abrupt halt to midday chatter when a guest from Brown joined students in the lunchroom on a spring afternoon.

Joi-Danelle Whitehead was there to introduce students to the summer academic programs available to them at Brown University. As part of her role directing diversity, equity, inclusion and access for Brown’s Pre-College Programs, she visits roughly a dozen Providence public schools each year to do the same.

“I remember Joi talking to students and answering questions to explain the Pre-College Program,” Cruz said. “I think it is helpful to have someone here from Brown to speak with one-on-one. Many of my friends applied for Pre-College because they learned about it at school.”

Each summer, Brown’s Pre-College Programs — which celebrate a 40-year milestone this year — welcomes thousands of high school students from around the world to select from eleven different programs where they study at a first-year college level on-campus, at domestic and international sites, in-person and online, introducing them to the opportunities and responsibilities that come with balancing demanding academics and robust outside-of-the-classroom experiences. The wide variety of courses reflect the breadth of Brown's undergraduate curriculum.

In recent years, Brown and the Providence Public School District have partnered with the goal of increasing the number of Providence-area students who participate, and the gains have been significant. Backed by a range of new outreach and support measures — contacting school guidance counselors, collaborating with school leaders to organize classroom and cafeteria talks, waiving application fees and providing more financial aid — the number of Providence-area students attending Brown’s Pre-College Programs each year has grown from roughly a dozen to a peak of 55 students, all of whom have their application fees waived and most of whom receive full scholarships to attend. As a result of the new engagement efforts, more than 200 Providence Public School District students have enrolled in Brown's Pre-College programs to date. 


The commitment to recruiting and enrolling more local students, Whitehead says, stems from the program’s purpose — to make elements of the rigors of a Brown education accessible to learners prepared for the experience from many backgrounds and help participants build a foundation of skills that they’ll employ in future study, careers and lives.

“We want to move students past the idea that college is not for them,” Whitehead said. “By starting here at home and exposing them to Brown, we want to show students how they can be successful here and that they can be successful at any school.”

The opportunity for students to live and learn with Brown in the Pre-College Programs offers Providence students an early feel for academic and extracurricular life on a college campus. Emma Mannavong, a rising senior at Hope High School, felt her four-week creative writing class offered a crash course on the college experience, from finding self-confidence in group discussions to powering through class assignments.

“I feel that I got the gist of what college would be like,” Mannavong said. The Providence native pictures herself on an urban campus next fall. “I want to be in New York City, but I can see myself in a similar campus setting to Brown.”

For other Providence students, Brown’s Pre-College Programs offered career exploration, personal growth and self-discovery opportunities. As a middle school student, Omani Cruz loved all things science. Since participating for the first time as a rising eighth-grader, he’s now spent the last five summers at Brown, exploring his academic interests and learning about animal behavior, neuroscience and disease management.

“Everything I learned was exciting and interesting, but ultimately, science wasn’t the right fit for me,” Cruz said. “I think that’s what pre-college can do. It helps you fall deeper in love with your interests, or it can steer you in a different direction. I love science, but now I know it’s not what I want to study in college. Brown helped me figure that out.”

Instead, building from the Pre-College courses he’s enjoyed most, Cruz embarked this summer on “an opportunity of a lifetime,” studying Italian history, architecture and culture for two weeks in Rome as part of Brown’s location-based Pre-College Program in Italy’s capital city. Inspired by the experience, Cruz is now considering a career incorporating business, hospitality and travel.

Beyond finding potential career paths, Cruz credits his time at Brown for academic and personal growth. He’s gained time management, communication and leadership skills. “Pre-college offers you this amazing toolkit and starting point before you go to college.”