Ahead of the pack

VIDEO: A new summer program gives Brandywine students a head start on their Penn State education.

By: Michael McDade
For 23 freshmen, a new program at Penn State Brandywine is giving them a strong start to their Penn State careers.

The Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS) program is being piloted at select Penn State locations and is designed to provide financial and educational support to students, helping them graduate on time.

“Brandywine is part of a seven-campus effort to institute a program that will help incoming students get a leg up with regard to their education at Penn State,” said Director of Academic Affairs Cynthia Lightfoot.

Yanira Rodriguez meeting in class

PaSSS student Yanira Rodriguez meeting with her academic advisor.  

Image: Mike McDade

The program is being offered at Penn State Beaver, Berks, Brandywine, Fayette, Hazleton, Schuylkill and Shenango and is open to as many as 30 students at each campus for a total of 180 in the first year. PaSSS is part of an effort President Eric Barron introduced to promote an affordable and accessible Penn State education.

The students take six credits during their first summer of participation in the program and 12 credits during their second summer, receiving a $250 per credit scholarship (up to $1,500 the first summer and $3,000 the second) to help cover the cost of tuition. They also receive a $400 stipend to pay for books and fees, and are assured jobs on campus or in the community to help ease financial pressures while gaining valuable work experience and professional contacts.

“The PaSSS program has been a great tool for me to get ahead in my academics,” said freshman Benjamin Coon. “It has really helped me transition from a high school atmosphere into college life. We’ve been quickly adopted into the culture that is Penn State.”

Students who participate in the program get their college careers off to a successful start by becoming more familiar with the campus, faculty and staff while learning about educational resources available at Brandywine. Lightfoot explained that students are also paired with a peer and faculty mentor for guidance. Next year, the students will become peer mentors for new incoming PaSSS students.

“There’s a very genuine interest in helping me succeed to be the kind of person I envision myself to be. They’re helping me look at the practical steps I need to take every day to reach my goals.” -- Benjamin Coon

“There’s considerable research that indicates that students who feel some personal connection to peers and faculty are more likely to stay in college,” said Lightfoot. “In addition to providing courses that ignite interest of an intellectual sort, relationships with other students and faculty has a huge impact on the likelihood that they’ll stay in college.”

Aside from traditional in-class exercises, students get to participate in various additional activities.

Ezenwa Osuagwu in class

PaSSS student Ezenwa Osuagwu at a workshop during Penn State Brandywine's 2015 convocation. 

Image: Mel Epps, Third Eye Productions

“The PaSSS program allows you to do things that help you get to know other students. I made a lot of friends that way,” said freshman Shacor Tyler. “This campus has a lot of clubs and organizations and I plan to get involved in the fall.”

One such activity that PaSSS students had the opportunity to participate in was an undergraduate research project at Tyler Arboretum alongside Professor of Earth Sciences Laura Guertin.

Throughout the summer, PaSSS students Coon, Erin Hawk and Ami Iannello visited Tyler Arboretum weekly to collect data about the historic trees in the arboretum’s Painter Collection. Hawk and Iannello collected measurements such as tree height and circumference, while Coon took photos and GPS coordinates of the same trees to create a custom Google Map for the project. The team entered their data into a website called PhillyTreeMap, which uses tree measurement information to compute the “eco benefits” of specific trees.

“There’s a very genuine interest in helping me succeed to be the kind of person I envision myself to be,” said Coon. “They’re helping me look at the practical steps I need to take every day to reach my goals.”