Vol. 20, No. 18

July 19, 2001

Campus programs stress academics and responsibility

Director Lin Gordon (left) and Carrie Baldwin, CHEP 2001M, an intern in counseling at the Academic Services Center last year, who is working there this summer

Our program is a cross between a convent and an academic boot camp. For the next five weeks you will live as successful students do. Our structure includes mandatory study hours, a curfew and "mandatory fun." When you are freshmen, these decisions–when to study, when to party, how much sleep you need–are yours to make, but this summer, you're going to have us there to help you develop these habits.

 

This is the message Lin Gordon, Academic Services Center (ASC), gives to the students who are selected incoming freshmen enrolled for five weeks in the Summer Enrichment Program, just one of the many programs offered by ASC.

Other summer ASC programs on campus are the year-long TRIO programs, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, to encourage qualified under-represented high school students to apply, matriculate and graduate from college. TRIO residential summer programs on the UD campus include Upward Bound, coordinated by Barbara Thomas, and Upward Bound Math/Science, coordinated by Lysbet Murray.

During the academic year, ASC offers UD undergraduates academic assistance through individual and group tutoring, group study sessions, consultations, mentoring, workshops and testing accommodations for students with learning disabilities, plus personal and social advising and referral assistance.

"The summer students are not always pleased with the regulations we have, and there is a period of adjustment. However, students routinely express their appreciation once they begin their studies in the fall. As the one who is ultimately responsible, I have been known as the 'Queen of Evil' and have had other flattering names, but that's my favorite," Gordon said.

"Actually, we run the programs like a community– everyone has rights and responsibilities. In the Summer Enrichment Program, students take college credit courses in math and English as well as a study skills course. There are opportunities for academic workshops and lectures, career exploration and other kinds of programs.

"We also have what I call 'mandatory fun'–such as a cruise on the Spirit of Philadelphia, a trip to a dinner theatre, a visit to an environmental center and activities designed to build trust and leadership–and everyone is expected to participate.

"A few come on campus with an 'attitude' and anger. Some are afraid and distrustful and have lacked support from their families. Others have not been encouraged to take college prep courses and struggle with academics, But, the vast majority of students are motivated and eager to participate in the program," Gordon said.

"We have a closely knit and concerned staff, and we are in constant touch with each other about our students during the summer and check on them during the academic year. Some require a no-nonsense approach, while others respond to a more sensitive approach, and we try to adapt to these needs. Our goal is to keep students on track and focused, increase their self-confidence and leadership skills and also help them to learn from their mistakes," Gordon said.

"At the end of the summer session, needless to say, the students have several suggestions," she said. "However, when we talk with students at the end of their freshman year and later, the general sentizment is, 'Don't change anything. That's what I needed!'

"Those who have been through the program become RAs, tutors and mentors the following summers, so it's a self-perpetuating program and a chance to give back," Gordon pointed out.

Statistics show the ASC programs are working. Of those who participate in precollege TRIO programs at UD for disadvantaged students, 95 percent enter four-year colleges, two-year colleges or the military to seek an education. At least nine UD graduates who participated in other Academic Services Center support programs are in medical school, Gordon said.

However, it's the individual students, rather than statistics, who matter most to ASC staffers, Gordon said. Students who have graduated from UD are in frequent touch with her and other members of the staff.

"We're invited to weddings, to meet fiancés and families and to have dinner with former students. We're informed about new jobs and new babies. Many keep in touch by e-mail," she said.

"Recently, I visited one former student who is an administrator in a computer corporation in Nashville. When he first came here in 1989 (my first year at UD), his mother said to me, 'I'm giving him to you: I can't do anything with him.' He even remembers what I was wearing that day, and he later told me that he had thought he had met his match that first day," Gordon recalled. "He struggled through school, made several mistakes and was in my office on a weekly basis for most of his undergraduate years. During my visit, he took me through his company and introduced me to everyone by saying, 'This is Dr. Gordon, whom I've been telling you about!'"

Another student was struggling to be an engineer. He really belonged in the humanities, she recalled, and the consensus of a few was that he did not belong in college. With the help and support of ASC staff, he finally decided to switch his major to technical writing, a good choice with his scientific background, and he excelled. He went on to graduate school at Temple and the University of Pennsylvania, earning his doctorate, and he is now an administrator.

One woman student took nine years to get her degree, Gordon said. After several personal setbacks, she dropped out, married and became a mother. Her husband and his family supported her in her efforts to finish school, and she now has a human services position, is sensitive to the needs of her clients and is doing a great job, Gordon said.

Another student learned to channel his anger in a positive way, earned his master's degree and is now in a doctoral program in Latin American studies at UD, Gordon said.

"Our office also works with students who have been diagnosed as having learning disabilities. They learn compensatory strategies and have gone on to successful careers. One young woman wanted to become a vet, which is a more difficult field to get into than medicine, and she applied to every vet school in the country. Her determination paid off, and she has been accepted at a Midwestern school.

"Another student wanted to be a dentist, but that did not work out. However, another window opened for him, and he has a very successful business in assistive technology for those with disabilities," Gordon said.

Those who for whatever reasons or obstacles don't complete their degrees have gained from being on campus, Gordon said. "They have taken jobs, are responsible citizens, and many are going back to school part-time," she said.

"Part of our success is due to the many dedicated staff in ASC and the cooperation we have received from the dean of students office, the colleges and departments across campus and other preparatory programs, such as RISE (Resources to Insure Successful Engineers), NUCLEUS (Network of Undergraduate Collaborative Learning Experiences for Under-represented Scholars), ASPIRE (Academic Support Program Inspiring Renaissance Education) and Fortune 2000. We all are involved in helping students get off to a good start so they can have successful college careers," Gordon said.

Gordon holds a doctorate in educational research with a specialty in reading from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She has taught for 20 years and has 18 years in administration. She developed and directed the study skills center at Buffalo State College before coming to UD in 1989. She chaired UD's Commission on the Status of Women from 1995-97.

–Sue Moncure

Photo by Kathy Flickinger