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Latino high school students at SCSU

The university hosted about 300 Latino high school students on campus recently for The National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA) Quest Education Summit 2015, a one-day event for Latino and other minority students run by a consortium of Hispanic professional and educational associations. The goal of Quest is to promote higher education and career development. The Connecticut chapter of NSHMBA organized and ran the summit, which included informational workshops, motivational speakers, a college fair, various networking opportunities, and a campus tour.

The Quest program provides students with a real-world connection between high school and college. Students engage with role models in the community who have overcome similar barriers to success and learn best practices for applying to and financing college; understand how to better market themselves to prospective colleges; build relationships with regional college recruiting representatives; discover the many resources available for educational and professional pursuits; and build confidence and self-sufficiency. This event is free to all attendees and includes a continental breakfast, lunch and transportation.

Latino high school students at SCSU

This year’s Quest at Southern included breakout sessions such as “Snapshot of Life on Campus,” “The Essay and the Recommendation,” “Living Healthy,” and “Balancing Life Skills,” among others. A keynote address, “Education Matters,” was delivered by Carlos Perez, principal and founder of Perez Technology Group, a Hartford-based solution provider delivering cloud and IT infrastructure services to small and midsize businesses, primarily marketing firms and law offices.

Perez, who was born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, and now lives in Wethersfield, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business information technology at the University of Connecticut. He has worked in many different industries, including finance, health insurance, airlines, Microsoft OME Partners, and nonprofits, among others.

Southern is one of the sponsoring partners of the Quest summit. Members of the university staff who serve on the Quest Committee include Anna Rivera-Alfaro, Academic and Career Advising, and James Barber, director of community engagement.

    New Student Orientation
    Students at New Student Orientation 2014

    A new partnership between Gateway Community College and Southern will enable many students to expedite their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.

    Students earning an associate in arts (A.A.) degree in liberal arts and sciences from Gateway will automatically have nearly all of their general education course requirements waived at SCSU. The general education requirements, known at SCSU as the Liberal Education Program (LEP), require most students to earn 48 credits in courses designed to ensure a well-rounded education.

    Under the agreement, most students with an A.A. in liberal arts and sciences from Gateway will be exempt from at least 39 of the 48 general education credits. Students would still have to earn 3 credits in a foreign language class (200 level at SCSU or third level at Gateway); 3 credits in math above an intermediate algebra level; and a capstone course. The math and foreign language requirements could be earned at Gateway, as well, but the capstone must be taken at SCSU.

    “We are convinced that these students who have earned an associate degree in liberal arts and studies have already attained a level of proficiency in most of the core competencies that we require of our own students,” said SCSU Provost Bette Bergeron.

    “Gateway is our largest feeder community college, and this will dramatically simplify the transfer procedure for many Gateway students with an associate in liberal arts and sciences degree.”

    She noted that students previously would need a course-by-course analysis with an academic advisor to determine how many of their Gateway credits would count toward meeting the LEP requirements at SCSU.

    “These students will know up front what they are getting when they come here in terms of credits,” said Marianne Kennedy, associate vice president for academic affairs. “It will provide these students with a clearer, more transparent road to academic success.”

    Some academic majors require students to take a specific LEP class or two, according to Deborah Weiss, acting chairwoman of the SCSU Undergraduate Curriculum Forum. In those cases, the major requirement would supersede the new agreement.

    Frank LaDore, SCSU director of Academic Advisement and Career Services, said he would urge Gateway graduates who plan to attend SCSU to apply to their specific program as soon as they are accepted to the university. “Students will then know if they need to take a specific LEP course or two to meet the requirements of their major, as well as gain a clear understanding of which courses they should register for during their first semester here.

    Gateway recorded a total of 161 students who graduated with an A.A. degree in liberal arts and sciences last year, and 780 students who were enrolled in the program.

    “The faculty at Southern are endorsing the value of a liberal arts and science degree from Gateway, and acknowledging that students are prepared for upper division studies,” said Lauren Doninger, coordinator of Gateway’s liberal arts and sciences program. “With a Gateway degree, students will get a broad section of courses that will lead them to be successful in majors at Southern.

    “Previously, students who did not make course selections specifically with Southern in mind had to take many additional credits to complete a degree at SCSU. This change will vastly simplify the transfer,” Doninger said.

    FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

    Southern recently approved a plan that will enable students who earned an Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree in liberal arts and sciences from Gateway to expedite their path to a bachelor’s degree.

    Students who have earned an A.A. degree from Gateway will be exempted from most of the required general education courses, known at Southern as the Liberal Education Program (LEP).

    Who is eligible to participate in this program?

    Any student who graduated with an associate in arts degree in liberal arts and sciences from Gateway since 2011 is eligible. At Gateway, it is commonly referred to as the LAS degree.

    How many credits must students earn to complete the LEP requirements?

    Most Southern students must successfully complete 48 LEP credits.

    How many credits could such a student transfer to Southern?

    Generally, at least 39 credits could be transferred to Southern in terms of meeting the 48-credit LEP requirement. In some cases, up to 45 credits could be transferred. But all 61 credits may be transferred to help with earning a bachelor’s degree.

    Which 9 credits would still be required to complete the LEP program? In other words, if the associate degree earns most students at least 39 of the 48 credits, what are these other 9 credits?

    The 9 credits are:

    *3 credits – a course that meets the multilingual communication requirement. In other words, a 200-level foreign language is needed.

    *3 credits – a course that meets the quantitative reasoning (math) requirement. It must be at a level above intermediate algebra.

    *3 credits — a Tier 3 capstone course at Southern

    Is it possible for a student to earn some of the remaining 9 credits at Gateway?

    Yes, a student can earn 6 of those 9 credits at Gateway. The math requirement would be met by successfully completing a math course above the intermediate algebra level. The foreign language requirement would be met by passing a 200-level foreign language course at Gateway (e.g. French 201, Spanish 201). A student could also be waived from the foreign language requirement by passing the Stamp Test at the intermediate low level, meeting the CLEP exam score or meeting the ACTFL exam score.

    The Tier 3 capstone course, however, can only be completed at Southern.

    What if a student decides to major in a discipline that requires a specific LEP course or two to be met?

    In those cases, the major requirement supersedes this agreement, and that specific course – or in some cases, two courses — must be taken at Southern.

    Before this plan went into effect, how did the credit transfer process work?

    Academic advisors would examine each student’s transcript and determine which courses would be transferable – both for the LEP requirements and for graduation purposes.

    Does the new system allow students to transfer more of their credits toward meeting Southern’s LEP requirements than previously was the case?

    Yes. Typically, it enables students to transfer at least 2 to 3 additional courses – thereby, reducing their workload while at Southern. As an example, English classes were often not transferrable to meet the LEP, but they are now. In some cases, a student can graduate a semester earlier now as result of this agreement.

    What else has changed?

    The process is more transparent. Students will know how many credits will be transferable before coming to Southern.

    The undergraduate college essay can be a source of stress for prospective students. Many of us can relate to the angst of trying to put together an “admissions-winning” composition.

    The same often holds true for students writing an essay as part of their application package for grad school.

    In Part I of this 3-part series, we looked at the importance of self-awareness and gathering information about potential schools before applying to graduate school. Today, Wise Words explores the admissions essay, admissions tests and letters of recommendation — three crucial components of the application process.

    The application process for graduate school involves many of the components as at the undergraduate level -- and can be just as stressful.
    The application process for graduate school involves many of the components as at the undergraduate level — and can be just as stressful.

    Shirley Jackson, graduate coordinator of Southern’s Sociology Department, recommends that students write their graduate school admissions essay in a scholarly fashion. “I constantly tell my (undergraduate students) that when they write assignment or papers, they should write in a scholarly fashion and to revise their work,” she says. “I do that for good reason. Both a scholarly style of writing and a heavily revised essay are key to writing the graduate school essay.”

    While her next suggestion may be a given to most prospective graduate students, it may be necessary to remind a few folks, especially in this day of electronic access to all kinds of materials.

    Do not use websites that offer to write personal essays for a fee. In addition to a person’s honesty and academic integrity being at stake, pragmatically it doesn’t make sense to risk your reputation with another person’s work. “There is a good chance someone will find out, and your career as a graduate student can be over before it begins.” Jackson says.

    Instead, Jackson suggests buying a book that can be helpful in writing the essay. “Bookstores have sections on graduate and professional schools in their reference section,” she says. “Check through their shelves to see what may be most helpful to you.”

    Admissions Tests

    Jackson points out that many grad programs will require taking a particular type of admissions test (GRE, LSAT, etc.) as part of the admissions process. “The test scores may not alone result in admission, but they are usually considered with the rest of a person’s application materials (essay, transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc.)”

    One of the most often required tests for grad study in the social sciences and business schools is the Graduate Records Examination (GRE). It is offered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The following link provides information about the admission tests:
    http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/about)

    Those considering law school should prepare for an extremely competitive process, according to Jackson. She suggests the following link from the Law School Admissions Council for information about the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test): http://www.lsac.org

    Some people are better test takers than others, of course. Jackson says those who are not good test takers should consider taking one of the preparation courses offered by Kaplan or Princeton Review, or checking whether there are sample test questions available through the test administrators for your particular entrance examination. Bookstores also have a large selection of test preparation books.

    Letters of Recommendation

    Just as you should do during the undergraduate school application process or with a job opening, give the people you are asking enough time to write a thoughtful letter. “These letters will carry a great deal of weight, especially if they can help offset weak test scores or a low GPA,” Jackson says.

    She suggests:

    *Choose your letter writers carefully. It may not be enough to have someone write a letter to simply say that you have received an “A” in their course, especially if the course is not related to the major or does not draw upon the skills necessary to show your potential as a grad student.

    *A letter from a professor who taught a class in which you earned a “B” might be a good candidate under certain circumstances.

    *Consider letters from professors who taught courses where much writing was required, or in which you wrote a research paper.

    *Think about seeking letters from those professors who know you well. Do not be offended if a professor declines to write a letter. The professor may simply not know you as well as you think, or perhaps may not believe they can write a strong enough letter to support your application. If that happens, simply seek out another professor.

    *Employers may also be good options, especially if they can speak to your level of commitment, positive character traits and ability to work well with others.

    Coming Soon:

    Part III — Admissions Interviews and Other Words of Wisdom

    The rigor of the undergraduate college selection/admission process is well-known.

    But if you ask people to explain what it takes to select and be admitted to graduate school, you are likely to get a sea of blank stares. After all, even in well-educated Connecticut, only about 16 percent of the population attains a graduate or professional degree.

    Applying to graduate school -- and finding the right program -- is often more time consuming and involved than people think.
    Applying to graduate school — and finding the right program — is often more time consuming and involved than people think.

    “Many students do not consider graduate school as an option until their last year of undergraduate study. This leaves students with only one semester in many cases to prepare the application for graduate school,” says Shirley Jackson, graduate coordinator for the Sociology Department at Southern. She recently presented a workshop called “Everything You Need to Know About Applying to Graduate School Workshop.”

    Today, Wise Words begins a 3-part series on navigating the graduate school process for the first time. Jackson offers her recommendations in each post.

    Part I:

    The first thing that a potential student should consider is whether they should go to grad school, and if so, why. She says while people are familiar with the sometimes painstaking process of getting into the undergraduate program of their choice, choosing and applying to graduate schools also requires time and attention.

    “The process of applying to graduate school should not be taken lightly,” Jackson says. “It involves a lot of work. You should spend time researching programs of study, universities, faculty and funding opportunities. Information is readily available via the Internet, through bookstores and your department.”

    She suggests that prospective graduate students contact the schools that they are most interested in, as well as ask those schools about the possibility of talking with graduate students currently in the program.

    Jackson recommends reading “Best Graduate Schools” in U.S. News & World Report to get an idea of the strength of a school’s program. She also says this U.S. News link offers valuable information for potential grad school applicants:

    Jackson notes that competition can be more intense at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level. “A much smaller number of students are admitted into graduate programs,” she says. “You are in competition with students from all over the state, nation and/or the world.”

    As a result of the competition, Jackson offers two handy suggestions:

    *When considering graduate school or professional school, do not limit yourself to applying to one school. You should apply to as many schools as you can afford and reasonably expect to be a successful candidate for admissions.

    *Familiarize yourself with the requirements for admission and then work to go beyond these minimum requirements to increase your chances for admission.

    (Southern’s School of Graduate Studies is holding its spring open house from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, June 23, at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Several new program offerings will be showcased.)

    Coming soon:

    Part II — A look at the graduate school essay, admissions tests and letters of recommendation

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith most school systems prepared to open later this month, students are enjoying their final few weeks of summer vacation. But for those who are about to enter their senior year in high school, thoughts of which college they will be attending a year from now are also sprinkled into their psyche.

    Alexis Haakonsen, director of admissions at Southern, says the end of summer is a good time to start planning in earnest for the college search/admissions process. Without the pressure of daily classes, as well as sports and club activities, an effective action plan can more easily be put together.

    As a guideline, Haakonsen divides the process into four components:

    *Academic preparation. “This is, or at least should be, the number one priority for students,” she says. While the first three years of your high school transcript have been written, an impressive senior year can sometimes make the difference between getting into the college of your choice and having to settle for a school that was not among your first few. It may be a good idea to get a jump on the start of the school year by reviewing last year’s notes if you are taking an advanced-level class this year (such as Spanish 3 or Chemistry 2); doing some reading/practicing in advance, if you know which books and the course material you are going to see this year.

    *Researching colleges. Find out important information about colleges that you are considering – everything from where they are located to majors and minors offered to scholarship availability to general admissions requirements. It is a good idea to prioritize the schools you are considering, if you haven’t already done so.

    *Visiting colleges. “Students really need to get on the campuses they are seriously considering and see how they fit,” Haakonsen says. This process is much easier if you have narrowed your selections to a manageable number, especially if the schools you are considering are hundreds or thousands of miles away. Ideally, some college visits are done during the summer before your senior year, if not earlier. But if you haven’t visited some schools yet, it is a good idea to start planning to do so.

    *Preparing the college application portfolio. In addition to standard paperwork and letters of recommendation, this includes the college essay. The essay can play a key role in determining your future school admissions, so be sure to give it your all. It may take multiple drafts before the essay exemplifies your best writing. But consider that an investment in your future. Don’t be afraid to let someone else – a guidance counselor, teacher, parent or even a friend — read your essay before submission. This doesn’t mean letting them write it for you, but rather providing feedback so that you can improve your own essay.

    So, how do admissions offices ultimately decide whether you are accepted, placed on a waiting list, or are politely rejected? Haakonsen says each school proceeds in a distinctive manner, but that generally speaking, a “holistic approach” is used. “At Southern, we look at everything during an application review – high school grades, SAT/ACT test scores, essays, letters of recommendation and more,” she says. “The numbers don’t tell us the whole story – we want to know the whole person to help determine if that student will be successful at our particular institution.

    “My main advice to students and parents as they are starting the college search process is to have fun! This is an exciting time in their lives and they should enjoy it,” Haakonsen adds. “There are so many great colleges and universities out there, students have many terrific opportunities to explore.”

    She recommends the following link as being helpful to students entering their senior year, as well as for their parents:
    http://www.collegebound.net/article/v/18956/college-preparationsenior-year-timeline/

    And another link for a broader, multi-year approach in selecting a college:
    http://www.petersons.com/college-search/planning-list-students-parents.aspx

    January and February can be a stressful time if you’re a high school senior.

    The glorious days of fall – when the promise of one’s future is close enough to be exhilarating, but not so close as to be anxiety-inducing – are over. Yet, the inevitable thaw of spring, when  college plans are finalized and “senioritis” can set in, is still a few months away. Instead, the cold, hard realities of weather and life coincide — prompting students to choose from among the colleges to which they would like to apply.blogcollegeessayphoto

    And while filling out forms can be both tedious and time consuming, the oft-dreaded essay is often the biggest source of stress for students when applying to schools. After all, except for the interview that some schools require, the essay is the last opportunity to stand out from the crowd — to show the admissions offices that you are a thoughtful student with good writing skills and are worthy of acceptance.

    Kimberly Crone, associate vice president for academic student services at Southern, has plenty of suggestions on how to write the application essay. Her experience includes dealing with various aspects of the admissions process, including how to write an attention-grabbing essay. Here are some tips she offers:

    • Respond to the topic. You can be the best writer in the world, but if you don’t address the main point or question of the essay, it may not matter. Creativity is encouraged, but don’t stray too far from the topic.
    • Highlight your distinctiveness. Colleges often look for individuals who bring something unusual (in a good way) to the school. If there is an opportunity to talk about your accomplishments, activities or interests, try to include something that sets you apart from most other students.
    • Remember your audience. It’s a good idea to do a little research about the school in terms of its location, values and mission, as well as its academic and athletic offerings. If there is an opportunity to link what you do to what they offer or value, that’s a plus.
    • Mind your grammar, words and humor. Properly delivered, a good sense of humor can be an effective communication device. But a joke or humorous anecdote may not come across the same way in writing as it does verbally. Remember, you can’t use inflection, pitch or other speaking devices in an essay and that can change the context. Also, if you do attempt to use humor, be sure that the comment is tasteful.
    • Write in your own voice. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, or write in a way that is so bland that your voice ceases to come through.
    • Follow the instructions. This applies to the parameters of the essay – length, format, etc. If the application asks for 800 words, don’t submit an essay of 2,500 words. It not only risks putting the readers to sleep, but it calls into question both your ability to comply with basic rules and to outline your thoughts concisely and coherently.
    • Proofread. Everyone makes mistakes in their initial drafts. Even Thomas Jefferson made revisions to his copy when writing the Declaration of Independence. Some readers are less forgiving of typos and other careless errors. You might get away with one or two minor errors, but a pattern of mistakes indicates sloppy work. Most schools don’t want students who don’t pay attention to essential details.
    • Get feedback. Your essay should reflect your own thoughts, in your own voice. But that doesn’t mean you can’t share your drafts with others to get their suggestions on how to improve them. Accept those suggestions that you think make sense and discard those that you don’t like.

    For those who have read college admission essays – administrators, teachers, parents – what advice would you offer students?