What kind of a difference can a week or two of college learning make on a high school student about to apply to colleges? To hear two members of Stevens Institute of Technology's incoming Class of 2024 tell it, almost everything.
“Stevens Pre-College gave me my first real experience in a college environment. Getting that early exposure to the different engineering majors gave me an understanding of what I wanted to study,” said Stevensky Mertyl, a chemical engineering major about to start his first year at Stevens this fall.
Brisnid Pardo also participated in a Stevens pre-college program last summer. That experience, she said, helped reinforce what she wanted to study in college as well. The Newark, New Jersey native will enter Stevens as a biomedical engineering major this fall.
“Being taught by college professors and meeting other students with shared interests reassured me that biomedical engineering was what I really wanted to pursue," said Pardo.
Providing a pre-college experience for high school students was very much in jeopardy this summer when the campus closure that began in March due to COVID-19 extended into the summer.
Driven by strong demand, especially from faculty and prospective students and parents, Stevens identified six of its in-person pre-college programs to deliver via a virtual format.
Nearly 200 high schoolers from around the country, and as far away as Greece, participated in at least one of the virtual offerings this summer – Introduction to Coding, Engineering Boot Camp, Intermediate Computer Science, Business Explorer and Cybersecurity (beginner and advanced).
Most programs were at near capacity, with some, such as Introduction to Coding and Engineering Boot Camp, filled to capacity, according to Joel Rolon, director of Stevens’ pre-college programs.
And when the program ended, feedback from families and students ranged from gratitude to excitement about next steps, said Rolon.
“We had one parent contact our office to say their child was committed to applying to Stevens after completing one of the programs. So it’s really nice to know that we had such an impact,” he said.
Virtual pre-college programs support university initiative toward greater STEM diversity
More than a dozen participants took part in a Stevens pre-college program this summer thanks to full scholarships from Stevens ACES (Accessing Careers in Engineering and Science), a program critical to the university’s strategic goal of increasing the number and percentage of underrepresented minority students in STEM study and careers.
Notably, Mertyl and Pardo were able to gain their pre-college experiences in 2019 with full scholarships from Stevens ACES. The impact of that program cannot be understated, according to Pardo.
“Without the help of ACES, my current path might have looked very different from what it looks like now. It was from that pre-college opportunity that I was able to experience what it would be like to go to Stevens,” said Pardo.
Spring semester prepared Stevens faculty to deliver instruction virtually
Days were structured just like the in-person version.
Each day, participants logged onto their myStevens account just like any Stevens student, giving them access to a suite of online tools, including Zoom links to each class and the university's cloud-based learning management system, Canvas.
In their virtual classrooms, participants were taught by Stevens faculty, who were well-positioned to take their pre-college instruction online without missing a beat. After all, they had months of actual experience with their undergraduate students when the campus moved to remote operations in March.
Lindsay Hartelius, coordinator of undergraduate outreach and reputation for Stevens’ School of Business, co-taught the research project course for the virtual Business Explorer program, which assigned projects according to teams of 4 to 5 students.
The breakout functionality in Zoom, she said, allowed for seamless communication with each group as she and Michelle Crilly (director of the Student and Faculty Support Center at the School of Business) moved from team to team to provide help or answer any questions.
Given the new experience for all involved, both as teachers and students, the engagement and interaction between students both surprised and impressed her, Hartelius said.
“They did not know each other at all when they were placed into these breakout rooms,” she noted.
“And from the first day, they started right on task working together to complete their ‘Monday Milestones.’ They also had less time to complete their research projects than the in-person version of this program. And honestly the projects were amazing, maybe even better than last year.”
Stevens students provide campus life perspectives
Stevens students played a key role in providing a sense of the Stevens community in their roles as counselors throughout the day and into the night. In addition to taking attendance during classes, they hosted optional workshops and activities to engage participants and share their experiences about college life.
“Faculty bring the academic component and we provide the student life perspective that only we can,” said Cameron Conway '23 of his role as counselor. He was impressed with how knowledgeable participants were about Stevens based on the questions they posed.
“We talked a lot about the difference between a big school and a small school, living in Hoboken and being so close to New York City, the clubs and organizations on campus, the hiring rate of Stevens graduates, our co-op program and how strong that is in building a career. We tried to convey as much as we could about student life,” Conway explained.
“Is it the same thing as experiencing it in person? Of course not. But were they able to figure out what the community here is like and the things we’re passionate about? Most certainly we were able to communicate those core values.”
That effort was noted and left an impression.
“It’s really easy to feel disconnected in a virtual setting, but I think Stevens did a really good job at incorporating some social aspects into the program and making students feel welcomed and comfortable,” one participant shared in a survey response.
To learn more about Stevens' pre-college programs, visit Pre-College Programs.