The topic on the student’s agenda is “Stand Up for Yourself” and Jane Sanchez Swain interviews high school students about what happens once they enroll in college. Swain, assistant director of graduation programs at Montclair University College, pushes them when they reply that they are more independent.
Someone replies that they are becoming adults. This is the answer Swain was looking for. “Legally, you become an adult,” she says. “So in high school, because you’re a minor, your parents have to take care of things that concern you as a student, your file, all that… In college, as soon as you become an adult, there is something something called FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act]. We cannot release information to your parents because you are an adult.
Swain addresses a group of 34 students on campus in late July for the Walmart-sponsored Pre-College Access Institute (PCAI). Now in its second year, the program offers prospective Montclair students from underserved and underrepresented communities the opportunity to learn more about applying and transitioning to college. It also prepares them for academic success.
One of many summer programs offered by Montclair State to facilitate college access, PCAI is modeled after the six-year Hispanic Student College Institute (HSCI) and allows students to live on campus. for three days and two nights. PCAI participants cover a lot of ground, including sessions on financial aid literacy and college essay writing. They also receive mentorship from Montclair students, many of whom are also former HSCI or PCAI participants, and will later be able to network with faculty and staff at the University. But before that, however, peer mentors including Macarena Duque, a psychology major, and Shantal Proano, a medical humanities major, walk them through how to network properly, which covers everything from introductions to handshakes and Dress.
The conversation in adulthood is the perfect transition into a discussion of the importance of self-advocacy, which Swain also asks PCAI participants about. “College is where you really assert your independence,” she says. “Our goal for you is – and your goal for yourself should be – success and independence.”
She guides them through a series of exercises. Working in small groups, students are presented with different scenarios and must practice defending themselves using a five-step strategy that Swain reviewed with them. She also notes some of the benefits of self-advocacy, including strengthening communication skills, building confidence, and learning to listen better, all of which will benefit them in their academic and professional careers.
“There is power in believing in yourself and there is power in speaking for yourself,” she says.
Swain also talks to them about the importance of seeking help with mental health issues. “When you are sick, you go to the doctor. When you don’t feel good mentally, it’s kind of the same thing,” Swain says. “Mental health is part of your overall health. Some people may say, “The therapy isn’t working for me. OK, well, how else do you do it? As long as you find a way to deal with how you feel, that’s a good thing. Whatever you’re feeling, you need to feel good, don’t you? »
Swain reminds them that they are never alone and should take advantage of University resources and practice self-advocacy.
“You might not always get what you want, but it’s always worth it,” she says. “You win or you learn something because you never lose when you bet on yourself.”
Among the students betting on their college future is Daniel, a rising senior from Jersey City. Daniel, who wants to study finance and is considering Montclair, attended the HSCI in mid-July. He admits his parents influenced his decision to attend both HSCI and PCAI, but he is glad he did. “Honestly, I love the college life experience, sleeping, having a roommate,” he says, adding that he gathered more information about financial aid during the PCAI experience. . “It’s exciting. It’s good to know more about essay prompts, financial aid. It prepares you well.
Jaylen heard about HSCI on the news, but was unable to attend. So he decided to participate in PCAI. The rising senior from Jersey City says he found the motivational speakers and financial aid presentations especially helpful. “I love the connections they made with the audience. They entertained the audience and kept me engaged,” says Jaylen, who has an interest in studying business and possibly real estate. He says that Montclair is one of his top five schools. “I just want to come here.”
Samantha has participated in PCAI twice, last year and last month. “It’s fun, that’s why I came back,” she said, adding, “Even though you’ve done it before, it’s new because there are new people, you’re in a new type environment now you have new mentors and new speakers.”
The rising Hillside elder, who wants to study exercise science, says she found the FAFSA information presented by Financial Aid Office counselor Nicole DeZerga particularly helpful. She also enjoyed presentations from sorority and fraternity members, new for students this year.
All three students agreed that seeing diversity among current Montclair students was also important to them when evaluating college choices.
“You wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, I don’t feel like I belong here’, but subconsciously you remember that there’s ‘no one here I can relate to’ “says Samantha. “So when you’re around people who look like you and don’t, there’s a balance that makes you feel comfortable. You know you’re not the only one thinking outside the box.
Story by writer Sylvia A. Martinez. Photos by college photographer Mike Peters and Shantal Proano.
You might also like:
Summer programs help students navigate their way to college