‘An amazing experience’: College Prep Program’s 10th cohort looks to future

Teresa Perez
College Prep Scholar Teresa Perez, a rising high scholar sophomore, explains her vision board. The innovative program helps students get to and through college. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

On the final day of the College Prep Summer Academy at Washington University in St. Louis, the program’s 10th cohort gathered for a vision board exhibit. Each scholar pasted their boards with images and phrases representative of their goals and aspirations for the future.

“Hold on to your vision boards because that is how you are going to hold yourself accountable in those moments where you’re questioning yourself,” Tashanna Stanciel, director of WashU’s College Prep Program (CPP), told the scholars, 50 rising sophomores from local high schools.  “It will always be there to refer back to for courage and strength.”

Launched in 2014, the CPP is a free, immersive learning experience that introduces talented high school students to college life. The scholars, most of whom will be the first in their family to attend college or who live in under-resourced neighborhoods, engaged for two weeks on the Danforth Campus in academic and personal development sessions ranging from science experiments to poetry writing.

Among students, one of the most impactful takeaways from the program was a new sense of confidence and a broader outlook on college and life outside of academics.

Scholar Teresa Perez of McKinley Classical Leadership Academy stood next to a board decorated with images of new travel destinations, stars and planets. A small American flag on the side of her poster represented her goal to help her mother obtain citizenship, she said.

“I’m not good at socializing, so I thought I wasn’t going to meet anybody,” Perez said. “By the end, I was participating in class better and decided to speak up in front of the whole class even when we didn’t need to.”

Tashanna Stanciel, director of the College Prep Program, speaks to scholars and their families prior to the vision board presentations on June 23 in Simon Hall. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

Scholar Katie Huynh of Francis Howell Central High School said the poems they had to perform encouraged her creativity and pushed her outside of her comfort zone.

“This program brought out another side of me that I will definitely try to be more like,” Huynh said. “I learned a lot more about myself — I like to talk to people and I’m very empathetic.”

A first-generation college student herself, Stanciel understands the importance of challenging the program’s scholars. She reminded them often that even she gets nervous when public speaking.

“I never thought that I would be someone to even be considered for a leadership role at WashU,” said Stanciel, who joined the program this year. “I definitely understand imposter syndrome and that’s why I want more time to sit and share my story with our scholars, because I am them.”

Stanciel hopes to ramp up alumni support networks, find new ways to support scholars throughout their years in college and continue to develop individual and organizational partnerships. Eager to better learn the students’ stories, Stanciel lived with Cohort 8, now in their final year of the program. She laughed as she recalled eating dinner with them and learning new ways to play Uno during game nights.

“When you experience people continuing to walk in and out of your life, it’s very challenging to build relationships,” she said. “So I always want to be visible to them, and I’m going to show up to the best of my ability. Am I tired? Am I worn out? Absolutely. But living in the residence hall with scholars this summer was a highlight.”

Sitting next to a board packed with colors, scholar Faith Mari of STEAM Academy at McCluer South-Berkeley explained her dreams to become a travel nurse and attend fashion school. She realized she wanted to major in psychology after hearing a university professor speak and feels this program and the friends she made helped her develop a greater sense of individuality. 

“I love all the people I met, and I just love their company,” Mari said with a laugh. “I can’t wait to come back next year. I’m just excited for everything.”

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