College Prep scholars join the Class of 2021

Some 1,780 first-year students gathered for Convocation; will start class on Monday, Aug. 28

First Year Center executives and WUSAs bring the spirit on Move In Day.

First-year students Denye Mickens and Meris Saric already know the provost, the best dishes at the Danforth University Center and the difference between Umrath Hall, Umrath House and Umrath Lounge. As members of the first cohort of the College Prep Program, they lived and learned on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis for three summers.

Yet, they experienced the same joy and jitters as their new classmates on Move-In Day on the South 40 area of the Danforth Campus.

“It’s a totally new feeling,” Mickens said as she waited for her new roommate to arrive. “I may know this campus, but I don’t know these new faces. It’s been so exciting to meet new people and get new perspectives. These people will be my friends for the next four years.”

Denye Mickens
First-year student Denye Mickens (left) talks with her new friend Eka Rose. Mickens has a long relationship with WashU, joining both its College Prep and Saturday Scholars programs as a high school student in St. Louis. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

Mickens, like half of the Class of 2021, moved in early to attend pre-orientation. Remaining students arrived Thursday, Aug. 24, one of the coolest and smoothest Move-In Days in recent history. Washington University Student Associates (WUSAs) greeted parents and new students with high-fives and lugged mini-fridges and microwaves into rooms and suites across the South 40. Later that day, students would meet their faculty fellows and residential advisors, learn the cheers and customs of their residential colleges and hear from student and faculty leaders at Convocation.

At Park House, Saric helped direct one suitemate to the laundry room and introduced another to members of the housekeeping staff, all Bosnian immigrants like himself. Saric’s father, Zuhdija, and aunt, Edina, have served as South 40 housekeepers for more than 15 years.

“I’ve known WashU all of my life,” said Saric, who grew up wearing WashU T-shirts left behind by students. “Still, the first day of class is going to hit us all. We can’t really know what to expect. That’s why we College Prep scholars have promised to be there for each other and our classmates. We can be their unofficial tour guides to WashU.”

The College Prep Program launched four years ago to prepare talented first-generation students from the St. Louis region for life on a college campus. They take classes for college credit, prepare their admission essays and learn effective study habits. The competitive program admitted 25 students its inaugural year. Every one of those students is off to college, and the cohort received more than $4 million in scholarship offers. Six students enrolled in Washington University.

They join 1,780 members of the Class of 2021, selected from a pool of nearly 30,500 applicants. This year’s first-year students hail from 49 states and 22 nations; 54 percent are female. The class also is both economically and racially diverse, a top priority for Washington University. Some 13 percent of students are Pell grant-eligible, and 7 percent are first-generation college students. Eleven percent of students are African-American, 10 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent are from another nation.

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton snaps a photo of Jen Smith, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and dogs, who are Move-In Day regulars.

Provost Holden Thorp said the College Prep scholars will make the Class of 2021 stronger. He taught the cohort a course that explored teamwork in science and music and was at the program’s graduation to present each an honor cord. Thorp also championed the launch of the College Prep Scholarship, which covers the full financial need of College Prep graduates who are admitted to Washington University.

“Walking across campus and seeing the College Prep students here as WashU undergrads is just a fulfillment of everything we’ve been doing,” Thorp said. “It makes me so excited to see them here. Being here for three summers and learning from terrific counselors, TAs and faculty members has prepared them to really succeed as Washington University students. That, and the fact that these are talented, wonderful students who are going to make a difference.”

Mickens hopes to make that difference as a doctor. Like Saric, she has a long history at Washington University. Her aunt worked as a dietary aide at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and Mickens would visit her at work. When her aunt died of sudden cardiac arrest, Mickens was devastated.

“I was still young and felt so helpless,” Mickens said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to go into medicine.”

As a student at Metro Academic and Classical High School, Mickens enrolled in the School of Medicine’s Saturday Scholars Program, where she dissected human organs and was mentored by Washington University medical students. She also joined the lab of Jeanne M. Nerbonne, professor of medicine, studying the relationship between proteins and cardiac function. This summer, she presented her research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Now, at Washington University, Mickens plans to major in molecular biology and in international and area studies, both in Arts & Sciences.

“The College Prep Program gave me the skills I need to pursue my dream to study the heart and the lungs and to be a cardiothoracic surgeon,” Mickens said. “But it also gave me a family that I know will always have my back.”

Meris Saric (center) says hello to members of the housekeeping staff (from left) Mina Pilpovic,  Lubic Gordana and Fatima Muratovic. Saric’s father and aunt have worked on the housekeeping staff since they immigrated from Bosnia. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

Saric, who attended Bayless High School, also called his cohort members family. His room is decorated with the flags of the United States and Bosnia and with a photo of his College Prep graduation. He plans to major in political science in Arts & Sciences and wants to solve international conflicts like the one that divided his homeland. His journey was the subject of a St. Louis Post-Dispatch profile.

“I’ve got two families here to support me,” Saric said. “I’ve got my actual family and my College Prep family. We are going to grow together, keeping that College Prep mission and ambition alive in us.”

The College Prep Program is one way Washington University faculty, students and staff are working to improve K-12 education in St. Louis. To learn more, visit The Pipeline.

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