April 08, 2010

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By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. - Building an inclusive community begins on the university campus, but providing students with hands-on opportunities to work with people from diverse backgrounds is just as important, says Rolando Arroyo-Sucre, chief officer for diversity and equity at Bucknell University.

The diversity office is doing just that through a series of programs that forge relationships between Bucknell students and high school students with an eye toward higher education.

In collaboration with faculty in Bucknell's comparative humanities program, Arroyo-Sucre's office has launched a partnership with the Fiver Children's Foundation in New York City, a community-based organization that teaches life skills to underrepresented high school students. The program, "Exploring the Realms of Knowledge," pairs Bucknell students and 9th-, 10th- and 11th-graders so the high school students may gain a better understanding of college academic and social expectations as well as critical thinking, problem solving and writing.

The Fiver program is among several programs organized by Bucknell's diversity office to make the central Pennsylvania campus more inclusive. The programs provide Bucknell students with real-life experiences mentoring prospective college students from diverse backgrounds, introducing the Bucknell students to varying life perspectives and urban issues while preparing the high school students to apply to colleges and universities.

"Programs like this are rich in learning opportunities and benefit all participants," Arroyo-Sucre said. "While the high school students develop college-level learning skills, the Bucknell students develop cultural competencies."

Making connections
Bucknell professors will offer Webinars and conduct live conferences in New York with about 30 high school students, and Bucknell students will act as virtual mentors for the Fiver students, coordinating on team projects and academic workshops centered on a theme: "Epics and Ethics: The Heroes' Quest," said Slava Yastremski, an associate professor of Russian and Comparative Humanities who with Professor of German and Humanities Katie Faull coordinated the academic portion of the program.

As a part of the program, the Fiver students will read from a book by Joseph Campbell that discusses how myths are used in culture and how the concept of heroes changes through the ages, from Homer to the King James Bible, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," and   J.R.R. Tolkien, and watch and discuss films such as "The Clash of the Titans," "The Matrix" and "Superman."

Bucknell faculty will offer online workshops once each semester for the high school students, who will be expected to prepare with readings and small group discussions before the online workshops. During that time, they will have online mentoring sessions with Bucknell students. Two weeks after the workshops, they must complete individual or team assignments such as PowerPoint presentations or brief papers. A conference is planned for April 24 and 25 in New York. Some Fiver students also may visit the Bucknell campus as part of the program.

Striving for inclusiveness
About 40 professors and 250 Bucknell students are participating in several other diversity-building efforts including:

  • "Issues of the 21st Century," a weekend event during which prospective college students visit Bucknell and engage in classroom discussions on topics from a variety of academic perspectives.
  • "Bridges to Higher Learning," a mentoring program in local high schools with students of varying socio-economic means.
  • "New Frontiers of Knowledge," an outgrowth of the "Issues" event that involves long-term peer mentoring of top students in Chicago and faculty webinars.

The Bucknell approach to inclusiveness is built on the idea that diversity-embracing cannot be mandated but must be learned and that initiatives should provide campus-wide "ownership" of inclusiveness and cultural awareness, Arroyo-Sucre said. The hope is that diversity will build organically -- beyond traditional recruitment and retention strategies -- and that students involved in the efforts will develop leadership skills.

"If we are serious about diversity, this is a great way to achieve it," Yastremski said. "The program offers great benefits to both sides. Many of the Fiver students will be part of the first generation in their families to go to college and will function on the same level as those who come from more privileged backgrounds. It also exposes Bucknell students to another point of view, not only of ethnic minorities or underprivileged classes, but it forces them to sit back and reflect on what diversity is and what it means."

Emily Warning, a sophomore philosophy major from West Chester, Pa., and a Fiver mentor, also participated in the Chicago "New Frontiers" program. She said she learned as much from the students she mentored as she offered to them.

"It was amazing to learn how little pieces of information can open up doors," Warning said.

Contact: Division of Communications


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