KIPP seventh-graders get a taste of college life at Greek Serve: the KIPP Experience

Fraternity, sorority members show students the South 40, Olin; answer questions about campus, sports, homework

Chi Omega member Amanda Phan, a junior studying anthropology in Arts & Sciences, answers questions about college life at Greek Serve 2013: The KIPP College Experience. (Credit: Joe Angeles/WUSTL Photos)

Titus, a seventh-grader at KIPP Inspire Academy, had just learned that some Washington University in St. Louis students have Fridays off when he saw the doughnuts. It was DUC ‘N’ Donuts Day, and dozens and dozens of chocolate, cinnamon and glazed donuts were free for the taking.

“We can eat these?” asked Titus. “That’s so cool.”

“College — it’s an amazing place,” said his tour guide, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) member Tyler Storlie, a senior studying mechanical engineering. “You’ve come on the right day.”

Titus and about 75 of his classmates spent Friday, Oct. 4, at WUSTL participating in Greek Serve 2013: The KIPP College Experience. They visited Olin Library, Wilson Hall, the South 40 and other destinations before eating lunch at the Gargoyle, where they cheered student salsa dancers and asked questions about the football team and different majors.

“It’s up to you what classes you take,” said Greek Serve organizer Jeremy Sherman, an SAE member studying at Olin Business School. “I have a friend taking a class in the music of the Beatles. There is a class for any topic you can imagine.”

Harvey Fields, PhD, assistant director of academic programs at Cornerstone, also spoke to the students about what it takes to succeed. College, after all, is not all free time and free food.

“You’ve got to have the right attitude, the right academics and the right attributes,” Fields said.

They’ve heard that message before. From their first day, KIPP students are told they are expected to attend college. KIPP, or the Knowledge is Power Program, is a network of 141 free, public charter schools. Inspire Academy in St. Louis’ Fox Park neighborhood serves students in grades five through eight and is sponsored by WUSTL.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon member Tyler Storlie congratulates KIPP seventh-grader Titus after they race on Francis Field. (Credit: Joe Angeles/WUSTL Photos)

Washington University undergraduates tutor KIPP students; Brown School students support KIPP’s social worker; and university faculty help KIPP teachers develop curriculum. Starting this summer, WUSTL also will host a pre-college program for high school sophomores and hopes to lure some who graduated from KIPP. Those students will return the following two summers to live on campus and take classes.

KIPP students hold up their end of the bargain. Many enter KIPP with test scores well below grade level, but they leave with acceptance letters to the region’s top high schools. They do it through hard work – taking classes on Saturdays and in the summer and studying for two hours every night.

“I have about 10 pages of homework,” said Janaesia, who wakes up at 5 a.m. to catch the morning bus. “We have to because we’re at a college preparatory school.”

And yet, until Friday, many never had visited a college campus. This experience, Sherman hoped, makes college more real.

“For seventh-graders, lecture halls and dorm rooms are abstract concepts,” Sherman said. “This gives them a taste of what college is like.”

Sherman and Chi Omega member Susan Zhang helped recruit dozens of sorority and fraternity volunteers for the KIPP Experience. This is the first time the Greek community has united to host a day of service.

KIPP seventh-grade student Janaesia gets a stamp in her Washington University “passport” from Theta Xi member Michael Mojtahedi after visiting Olin Library. (Credit: Joe Angeles/WUSTL Photos)

Guide Amanda Phan, a junior studying anthropology in Arts & Sciences, knows the power of first impressions. She was about the same age as the KIPP students when her parents brought her to St. Louis to see a baseball game.

“We came here and I saw the buildings and the campus, and I said then, ‘I want to go here,’” said Phan, also a Chi Omega member. “I don’t expect all of the students here will want to come to Wash. U., but I hope this experience makes an impact.”

Phan was quick to connect with the female students on her tour, trading stories about Selena Gomez and the Justice clothing store while Storlie asked the boys about their favorite sports. He raced Titus to the 50-yard line of Francis Field, beating him by inches. In fairness, Titus just had that doughnut. Afterwards, at Lien House, Phan asked the students what they would bring to their first dorm room.

“My stuffed animals,” said Kayla.

“Febreze,” answered Janaesia.

Janaesia said she wants to be a veterinarian or a teacher and would like to go to New York University or Dartmouth College. But after seeing the stir-fry station at the Bear’s Den and hearing about the clubs on campus, she agreed Washington University boasts its own benefits.

“It seems pretty cool here, too,” she said.