UAH students volunteer as mentors to underrepresented area high school students at summer institute

Emily Arthur

Emily Arthur, who volunteers with AmeriCorps, serves as the Regional Coordinator for Impact Alabama and was the CollegeFirst site coordinator in Huntsville.

Michael Mercier | UAH

When it comes to helping others, students from The University in Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) have traveled both near and far. As recently as this past month, for example, members of the university's Medical Careers Club went down to Peru to provide basic healthcare to rural residents.

But this summer, they didn't need to travel anywhere at all to mentor underrepresented high school students from Madison County. That's because UAH was once again host of the CollegeFirst Advanced Placement Math & Science Institute, a unique three-week summer enrichment program offered on the UAH campus by Impact Alabama and A+ College Ready.

"This initiative recruits successful college students to serve as both tutors and mentors, helping increase the number of area high school students who will be ready not only to attend college, but to excel in college," says Stephen Black, President of Impact Alabama.

Research, after all, shows that students who pass AP exams are three times more likely to graduate from college than those who do not, and that those who take AP classes tend to have a higher likelihood of retention once in college. So it's the goal of CollegeFirst, which is free of charge, to better prepare Alabama high school students for the challenges posed by college-level AP courses.

Emily Arthur, who volunteers with AmeriCorps, is the Regional Coordinator for Impact Alabama. During the course of the Institute, her job as the CollegeFirst site coordinator in Huntsville was to oversee the Impact Alabama staff who served as content managers, the area high school teachers who served as AP presenters, and the students from UAH and other local universities who volunteered as mentors.

Arthur says each of these three groups received training before the start of the Institute on topics ranging from the complexities of poverty and education to safety and liability. In addition, she and her fellow Impact Alabama content managers went through diversity training before arriving on campus.

The leadership also practiced several of the more difficult biology and chemistry experiments planned for the week with the help of Joe Noletto, UAH's Chemistry Stockroom Manager and the Coordinator of Undergraduate Laboratories. "He did our lab safety training and helped with the more complicated equipment," she says. Students performed the laboratory exercises in the biology and chemistry teaching laboratories in the Shelby Center for Science and Technology.

Once the Institute kicked off, the UAH campus was inundated with more than 120 participating students. All were from local high schools already part of the A+ College Ready program, and all were already enrolled in AP classes at those schools.

When students have a vision for where they can be, when they can see it, the goal is that much more attainable.

Delois Smith
Vice President for Diversity for UAH's Office of Diversity

A+ College Ready also provided the curriculum for the program, says Arthur, in the content areas of calculus, biology, chemistry, and English. Materials and supplies, meanwhile, came from A+ College Ready and the Schools Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides support for Madison County public schools.

Mary Boehm, President of A+ College Ready, says the organization was "delighted to partner with Impact Alabama to bring this summer enrichment program to our students," adding that many of the students who attended are among the first in their families to go to college.

And in turn, UAH was happy to host the Institute, says Delois Smith, Vice President for Diversity for UAH's Office of Diversity. After all, she continues, "when students have a vision for where they can be, when they can see it, the goal is that much more attainable."

That's certainly true for UAH student and CollegeFirst mentor Sara Abu-Alrub. An education major, Abu-Alrub says CollegeFirst was "the perfect chance to get experience" in her future career as a teacher. "I would love to do it again next year," she adds.

Having UAH host the Institute also brings a greater awareness to the university itself, which for many people "has been a neighbor all of their lives, a neighbor they know very little about," says Juanita Owen, UAH's Associate Director of Conferences & Events.

"When UAH serves as a host location for special classes, review sessions, summer camps, forums, competitions, concerts, community-sponsored activities, and sporting events," she says, "participants quickly learn it is truly a unique institution with many opportunities."


Participants celebrated with cake and lemonade on the final day of the Institute.

Virginia Rushton | Impact Alabama

On the Institute's last day, which was marked by a cake-and-lemonade celebration, the importance of the program of the program as a whole was reiterated by Impact Alabama's Black. "It's not just a story about tutoring and getting ready for school," he said to the assembled participants. "It's about a path toward excellence."

He also thanked the leadership, including the college student mentors, saying that Impact Alabama was "incredibly grateful" for their service over the past few weeks. Four mentors, one from each content area, were then recognized for excellence. Among them was UAH sophomore Khira Morgan.

Already an experienced algebra tutor for local schoolchildren in her Union Hill neighborhood, Morgan says being a calculus mentor for CollegeFirst was a natural extension. As for the recognition she received, "I was shocked but really happy," says the electrical engineering major. "I just tried to get the kids involved."

It's a humble response, and one that only alludes to what Black calls the "transformative effect" that mentoring has on the lives of others. That such an experience can take place so close to home for these students – college and high school alike – only makes it all the sweeter for everyone involved.

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Diana LaChance


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