UMass reflects on summer outreach program

By Kathrine Esten

(Collegian file photo)

In August, 92 elementary-age students from Holyoke took part in a summer campus scavenger hunt as part of the University’s ongoing outreach initiative to connect with local communities and encourage young students to begin thinking about college.

On Oct. 24, a lecture was held in Hasbrouck Hall to discuss and review the collaboration between the Power Scholars Program and the University of Massachusetts from this past summer.

The Power Scholars Academy, a six-week summer program that is a partnership between the Greater Holyoke Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the national nonprofit organization Building Educated Leaders for Life and Holyoke Public Schools.

According to the YMCA program profile, the Power Scholars Academy is “designed to not only tackle summer learning loss in math and reading, but to also foster physical and social-emotional growth.”

Leykia Nulan, assistant provost for diversity in the Office of Enrollment Management, explained why she felt that this program and event is important.

“I wanted very much to reach out to these students, because waiting until junior or senior year is too late. By the time students get to the fourth grade, there is already an achievement gap….I want these students to have a positive memory of our school, so that later they won’t see the school as far away or unattainable,” she said.

Nulan said that she first considered a program for younger children to visit campus after bringing her own son on a school trip to Central Connecticut University. Rather than a traditional tour, the school had, according to Nulan, a “relatable” tour, where young students could see the “fun things to do in college.”

After receiving an email from Edward Maldonado, achievement gap and enrichment coordinator at the Holyoke YMCA and a UMass alumnus, about bringing the Power Scholars Academy to campus, Nulan was ecstatic.

The scavenger hunt was organized by the YMCA and the Office of Enrollment Management. To complete the scavenger hunt, students had to explore locations such as the Du Bois Library, Recreation Center, Fine Arts Center and Durfee Conservatory. The students had to solve a riddle at each location and find the answer – usually an object at the location – such as a banana tree at the Durfee Conservatory, or the juice bar at the Recreation Center.

Barbara Pearson, from the Office of Research Development, attended the talk. She felt it was “really important for the young children to have this informal experience,” and was very glad that a former student initiated the program.

“These young students can reach out to us, and we can really give back to them,” Pearson said.

Phoebe Hobbs, school-age enrichment coordinator for the YMCA, told UMass News and Media Relations the program was very important to instilling an early love of learning and interest in education.

“A college education is the gateway to opportunity in life, and the sooner children understand this, the more willing they will be to put in the hard work required to achieve their goals,” Hobbs said.

Nulan said while she couldn’t take down students’ names to add them to the recruitment system just yet, she felt it was critical to stay involved with the local community.

“That’s the point – get them to think about us early, and when they’re old enough to apply to schools, they’ll have a good memory of UMass,” Nulan said.

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected]