Date April 6, 2023
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College Day at Brown welcomes local high schoolers to explore University life

Nearly 350 high schoolers from Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket explored Brown’s multitude of classes, athletic programs and community engagement opportunities, inspiring them to factor college into their plans.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Odair Teixeira da Rosa, a sophomore at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, loves sports — he plays varsity volleyball and soccer. He’s mulling joining the United States Marine Corps, an arm of the military renowned for its athletic recruits, when he graduates. 

But part of Teixeira da Rosa is asking, “what if?”

What if, instead of joining the Marines, he pursued higher education at a university in Wyoming or Montana? What if, he wondered, that experience could open doors to another exciting kind of life?

“I grew up watching ‘Stagecoach West’” — a television show set in rugged, scenic Wyoming — “so I think it would be cool to see what it’s like out there,” the Cape Verde native declared.

Teixeira da Rosa was one of nearly 350 students who came to Brown University on Thursday, April 6, to explore the possibilities of post-secondary education.

College Day at Brown, organized by leaders at the University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform and Office of the President, gives Providence-area high schoolers a glimpse into everyday life at college. The immersive day of events takes young students across College Hill to explore Brown’s multitude of classes, athletic programs and community engagement opportunities, and to interact one-on-one with Brown students, staff and faculty. 

According to Soljane Martinez, the Annenberg Institute’s education coordinator, the day of learning, games and information sessions isn’t just to show students a slice of life at Brown in particular. It’s to raise awareness of the full spectrum of educational possibilities, from vocational schools to community colleges to four-year universities, in recognition of Ocean State students’ diverse backgrounds and aspirations.

“This event has become a great example of true partnership between the University and Rhode Island educators,” Martinez said. “By staying in constant conversation with local educators and education leaders all year long, we’re able to design a day filled with activities that connect directly with these students’ many academic and extracurricular interests. The idea is to get them excited about college, whether they’re interested in Brown or they have their heart set on other colleges and universities.”

‘What If?’

Now in its second year, College Day has already expanded since 2022 — bringing in 175% more students this year, and inviting students and educators from Central Falls and Pawtucket, in addition to kids, teachers and counselors from more than a dozen schools in Providence. In 2023, students chose from an even larger selection of classes and sessions led by faculty and staff at Brown, where they learned hands-on lessons about everything from data science to the principles of podcasting. And, new this year, students and educators got the lay of the land with campus tours led by Brown students before heading off to their classes — giving them the opportunity to ask for more details about Brown’s student organizations, traditions and academic concentrations.

The event is one among an ever-growing number of ways in which Brown community members engage with Providence schools each year. The University works 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. That 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, learn drone-based robotics and work alongside University researchers and administrators in internships. 

At an opening ceremony for College Day held in Sayles Hall, Brown President Christina H. Paxson welcomed students and encouraged them to ask questions throughout the day — about athletics, academics and everyday life on campus.

“College might seem like a long way off, but it will be here before you know it, and the time to think about it is now,” Paxson said. “Today, you’re going to find out what it’s like being in a college classroom. You’re going to find out what types of things you can study in college… from space exploration to medieval literature. [And] by the end of the day, I want all of you raising your hands and telling me that you plan to go to college.”

Multiple Rhode Island leaders joined Paxson on stage to address students — including Providence Mayor Brett Smiley and Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. Providence Public School District Superintendent Javier Montañez captivated students with a description of his Brooklyn childhood, spent partly in public housing and partly on the streets. The superintendent moved to Providence as a teenager, attending and dropping out of nearby Hope High School.

“I was on a path I had no control over, [and] I didn’t know how to leave,” Montañez said. “For many years, I was told I wasn’t smart. No one spoke to me about education… about the possibilities.”

But when Montañez became a father, he felt motivated to “do better, be better” for his family — and after a month spent studying, he earned his GED diploma. Suddenly, he began contemplating the many paths now open to him, and he was motivated to earn associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees and finally a Ph.D.

Shouting over loud cheers, the superintendent advised students to “have faith, believe in yourself, think wisely… and always ask yourself: ‘What if?’”

Elisabeth Torres is already taking those words to heart. The El Salvador native, a junior from Providence’s Mount Pleasant High School, described herself as a “future Yale University student” and said she hoped to study law or business. Her friend Crystal Inoa doesn’t know yet where she wants to attend college, but she knows she is interested in studying fashion design and dance.

“Many of the students in the top 10% of the class at Mount Pleasant are English language learners from Central America and the Caribbean,” said Melissa Lipa, a guidance counselor at the school. “They’re unbelievably hard workers. Days like this tell them that college is absolutely a possibility for them. It tells them, ‘You belong here. You should be here.’”

Psychology and Pikachu

After campus tours and a hearty lunch at the Sharpe Refectory, students split up into smaller groups to attend two sessions based on one of five subject focuses they had chosen in advance: liberal arts, social impact, STEM, entrepreneurship or education. 

Some technology-focused students headed to Brown’s Rockefeller Library to learn about its surprisingly wide variety of research careers and student positions. Library staff and undergraduate students described their work updating a historical database of enslaved Indigenous people, creating a digital tool that allows people to explore century-old plant specimens, and managing an interactive map of the 1853 World’s Fair. 

Liberal arts students, meanwhile, went to a classroom in Alumnae Hall to study Japanese culture, trying their hand at calligraphy and employing origami techniques to recreate the famous Pokémon character Pikachu. Some of those interested in social impact paid a visit to the Ruth J. Simmons Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, where they learned about student-led research that is changing the way the world thinks about the legacy of racial slavery.

At “The Science of You,” an afternoon class hosted by the Carney Institute for Brain Science, students got the chance to hold plasticized brains and learn about the science behind their own decision-making patterns.

“Right now, you’re sitting in a chair, and your brain is probably processing the sensation of sitting down,” said Haley Keglovits, a Ph.D. student studying cognitive control. “I know that sounds weird, but it’s interesting to think about how the brain works in a basic way, because that can help us create artificial intelligence and help people who are sick or aging.”

Keglovits led students in a series of exercises that demonstrated how fast the brain processes information and sends messages to other parts of the body. She asked each student to squeeze their neighbor’s right arm once they felt a squeeze in their left, setting off a chain reaction of arm squeezes. She showed how the chain reaction grew quicker with repetition, and quicker still when everyone in the group closed their eyes — a demonstration of the brain’s ability to work quicker when it has fewer senses to manage.

Have faith, believe in yourself, think wisely… and always ask yourself: ‘What if?’

Javier Montañez Superintendent, Providence Public School District
Javier Montanez standing at a podium and pointing upward

Meanwhile, in University Hall, high school teachers and counselors received their own psychology lesson. Amitai Shenhav, a Brown associate professor of brain science, led an interactive discussion on the interplay between teenagers’ decision-making, cognitive effort and motivation, sharing how educators might use the principles of psychology to improve student academic performance.

The educators also met with leaders from the University’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity to share tips on how local students can harness their unique personal stories to position themselves for admission to colleges across the state and country — diversifying and enriching Brown and a multitude of other campuses.

“Places are made better when they’re made more diverse,” said Tristan Glenn, assistant vice president of inclusion, campus culture and engagement. “At Brown, we’re always asking, how do we maintain the commitment we have to cultivating a diverse environment? That’s where opportunities emerge for you and your students: They have stories to share about their backgrounds and experiences, and part of your role is to bear witness with them in that process of sharing the story.”

In the afternoon, students and educators came back together at the University's Coleman Aquatics Center to hear from student athletes and administrators in the Office of College Admission and the Division of Pre-College and Undergraduate Programs. Students peppered Brown’s undergraduates and staff with questions about Advanced Placement classes, how to balance athletics and academics, and how to participate in high school summer enrichment opportunities like Summer@Brown, now free for all admitted students who attend Providence public schools. Then, they stretched their legs in an interactive outdoor class led by Brown’s strength and conditioning staff — learning about the long-term value of maintaining muscle strength and flexibility.

As students were guided through squats and leg lifts, some groaned — but they persevered, perhaps with Infante-Green’s morning remarks echoing through their minds.

“If you’re from an immigrant background or you’re a student of color, it’s hard,” the education commissioner, the daughter of two immigrants from the Dominican Republic, had told them. “You sit at a table with people from different backgrounds who may not always understand what your journey has been. But when you sit at that table, sit up straight… and make sure that people understand that you are hungry for success. Practice makes permanent — the best baseball players, basketball players, practice every single day, and that’s what you need to do.”