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Where students become scholars

UD's College Readiness Scholars Institute prepares Delaware high schoolers for higher education

For Smyrna High School junior Tianna Muiruri, this was a summer of firsts. She’d never stayed in a college dorm before, never been away from her family for more than a few days, never presented one of her poems to a group of students she’d only met two weeks earlier.

But after joining UD’s College Readiness Scholars Institute (CRSI), she did just that, discovering a newfound confidence along the way. Joined by 43 other high school juniors from across Delaware, Muiruri spent two weeks in June 2022 living and learning on UD’s Newark campus, as part of an intense college preparatory summer program.

Established in 2013, CRSI has encouraged nearly 300 students from under-resourced Delaware communities to pursue higher education and boasts an impressive success rate: 89% of participants go to college, many to UD.

At no cost to families, students live in the residence halls, dine in the dining halls, take English and math classes and get acquainted with college expectations. The program isn’t easy. The classes are rigorous, the assignments mandatory. Students are up at 6 a.m. and classes begin at 8. “It’s strict. You learn time management,” says Jaelyn Handy, a high school junior from New Castle County. “I wanted to quit,” adds Muiruri, smiling. She stuck with it and found support from her peers and the admissions staff who run the program.

The rigor is the point: Getting students to believe that much is expected of them because they have much to offer. Such encouragement is particularly necessary as many students who attend CRSI come from families that have never sent a student to college. In CRSI, “they start to see that education can be part of their success if they are willing to work for it,” says Tim Danos, associate director of pre-college programs.

Each summer, while CRSI students are on campus, it’s tradition to hold a talent show. When it was her turn, Muiruri read her poem “Reflections,” which she wrote in her dorm room. She’d done a lot of reflecting while in the program, calling her experience at UD “restorative after a hard COVID year,” in which the quadruplet had mentored her two sisters and brother while also coping with classes over Zoom. Like so many students during the pandemic, she struggled, but felt now that she was “coming out of her shell.”

“It’s magical to watch as the community forms,” says Amber Thompson, an admissions counselor and mentor for the program. “The students who walked into the residence hall the first day are not the same as those who walk out.”

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