Date July 27, 2023
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With full scholarships, Providence students enroll in Brown's Pre-College Programs in record numbers

With a new scholarship model removing barriers, the number of Providence Public School District students exploring interests through the University's summer Pre-College Programs has quadrupled.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Eager to leap into college life, thousands of high schoolers journey to Providence each summer for Pre-College Programs at Brown, designed to offer a taste of college academic, extracurricular and social experiences on College Hill. And while the summer programs draw students from across the world, Brown is welcoming an increasing share of local teens — 140 Providence Public School District students enrolled in 2023, a spike of nearly four times the number of participants compared to last year.

So what caused local student enrollment to quadruple?

Determined to increase the number of students from its home city who participate, Brown is now providing a full scholarship to every PPSD student admitted to a Pre-College program.

Since partnering with the district in 2016, the number of PPSD students has grown yearly. Still, the move to a full scholarship model proved one of the most effective outreach and support measures — which also include contacting guidance counselors, collaborating with school leaders on classroom and cafeteria talks, waiving application fees and providing more financial aid — that Brown has led to date. Turnout is up roughly 270%, with 140 PPSD students participating this summer compared to 38 in 2022. Among the PPSD cohort, 113 students attended programs on the College Hill campus, while 24 enrolled in online courses, and three students took part in programs held internationally.

Increasing access to Pre-College Programs is just one way the University provides impactful experiences for Providence-area students, said Adrienne Marcus, dean of the Division for Pre-College and Undergraduate Programs. By reaching dozens of new PPSD students this summer, she hopes their experience ignites a meaningful connection to Brown while empowering them to build skills for future study, careers and lives.

"Brown is part of their home and their city — we want them to see this campus as theirs and that it's a place where they can succeed," Marcus said. "Our Pre-College programs will set them up for success in the future and we hope that the experience inspires the idea that they can come back to Brown and learn more as they progress through their high school careers.” 

Removing barriers for local high schoolers

One of the largest summer initiatives of its kind, Brown's Pre-College Programs welcomes over 6,000 high school students and rising ninth graders from around the world. Students select from 11 programs where they study at a first-year college level on campus, at domestic and international sites, in-person and online. Programs introduce them to the opportunities and responsibilities that come with balancing demanding academics and robust outside-of-the-classroom experiences. An array of Pre-College options, ranging from one to six weeks, offer courses such as: "Origins of the Universe: From the Big Bang to Black Holes," "Can We Build Organs: Techniques in Regenerative Medicine," "A People's History of War in America," and "The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe."

The full scholarships cover all direct expenses for PPSD students, including courses, housing, meals and fees, not including travel costs to and from programs.

Joi-Danelle Whitehead, director of diversity, equity, inclusion and access for Pre-College, said the scholarships essentially remove the financial barriers for local families. And the full financial support, regardless of family finances, eliminates the obstacle of applying for financial aid, which for some, can be a barrier in its own right, requiring detailed financial information and supporting documentation. The new model guarantees a full scholarship for any admitted student in the district. As a result, more students are now applying and enrolling in Pre-College with a new sense of enthusiasm and assurance, according to Whitehead. 

"The real shift is around student confidence," Whitehead said. "The confidence of knowing that if I'm admitted, I'm going to be fully funded — I think that's the barrier that was lifted because there was uncertainty for some students before." 

Terrell Osborne, a rising junior at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, first learned about Pre-College last summer and applied this year after learning of the new scholarships. As part of her role, Whitehead visits more than a dozen PPSD schools each year to introduce students to Brown's Pre-College Programs and other summer enrichment offerings on campus. Whitehead’s outreach, led in partnership with the school district, resulted in students from nine of the 10 high schools and four of the eight middle schools in the district to capitalize on the new scholarships. 

"The scholarship was a huge factor for me because I would not be able to afford a summer program like this," Osborne said. "When I heard that Pre-College would be available to students in Providence schools, I knew I had to jump at the opportunity."

The 15-year-old is interested in biology, engineering and computer science. At Brown, he enrolled in "Leadership and the Future of Science, Technology and Medicine," a two-week course focused on cutting-edge research topics, including tissue engineering, cloning and stem cell research. Offered as part of the Pre-College Program's Leadership Institute, the lessons were presented within the context of socially responsible leadership, allowing students to practice collaborative problem-solving and leadership skill development.

Exploring scientific topics and innovative medical technology each day was "mind-blowing," Osborne said. Still, beyond experiencing the rigors of college-level classes, the local teen said he left Brown with new friendships, greater independence and self-reliance, and a clearer picture of life as a college student. 

"This was my first time at Brown," Osborne said. "Before Pre-College, I thought learning here would be something like what you see in the Harry Potter movies, but now I have a better idea of what college is like and how to prepare for it. I'm also thinking more proactively about what kind of college experience I want for myself in the future." 

Supporting first-generation students 

For Osborne and many others, Pre-College is often their first time navigating a college campus or living away from home. Of the 140 students in the PPSD cohort, roughly one-third will be first-generation college students. To support PPSD students during their experience, Brown provides dedicated welcome sessions, one-on-one support and programming that connected students from low-income, first-generation or historically underrepresented backgrounds with Brown faculty and staff. 

Providence students also had access to a common space in Page-Robinson Hall where they could drop in to study, socialize, check in with a Brown staff member, and engage in programming. Most, Whitehead said, used the space to ask questions, seek advice on the college application process, or learn more about opportunities available to them on a campus like Brown.

She said that introducing first-generation students to less obvious but essential aspects of campus life — from learning how to engage in faculty office hours to finding a sense of belonging — is critical. Pre-College Programs are designed in part to help students understand and navigate the “hidden curriculum” — the implicit knowledge of norms, systems and resources that can mean the difference between succeeding or struggling in college. 

"Pre-college programs expose students early to this hidden curriculum — these expectations of navigating college that students often from under-resourced communities aren't introduced to until their first year of college," she said. "The pre-college experience they're engaged in at Brown will help prepare them for that transition to college and for success throughout those four years." 

Set on attending medical school and pursuing a career as a surgeon, Genesis Akinrolabu, a rising junior at Times2 STEM Academy, enrolled in "Hands-On Medicine: A Week in the Life of a Medical Student" for her Pre-College class this summer. The one-week residential experience let her step into the shoes of a medical student and dive deep into anatomy, physiology and disease processes. Still, she said getting advice about college admissions was also one of the major takeaways from her time in the program. 

"Pre-College has helped me expand my knowledge of the college application process," Akinrolabu said. "I've learned more about applying for college but also how to get scholarships and what is involved with financial aid. It's a lot to know, but I feel more confident now that I know more about what to expect and what sort of resources and support there are for students like me."

Yasemin Eksioglu, a rising senior at Classical High School, is also interested in medical school and enrolled in "Neuroscience in Health and Disease," a three-week course that teaches principles of how the brain and nervous system function. By covering a comprehensive foundation in neuroscience and its sub-specialties, Eksioglu said she learned a lot. 

"The thing that I enjoyed most about this class was that I was able to learn so much in such a short time," Eksioglu said. "My favorite topic was learning about different neurological disorders and how they affect the brain, and how different it is compared to a typical brain."

Her experiences outside the classroom also provided opportunities that she might not have otherwise. 

"What stood out to me about the program was the number of different people I got to meet and become friends with from all over the country and the world," Eksioglu said. "My roommate is from Madrid, and we learned that we weren't all that different. We found similarities in music, television shows and fashion. Brown's Pre-College Program is a chance for people from little Rhode Island to branch out and experience many new things."