Grant to help provide pre-college programming for underserved high school students

The Notre Dame office of pre-college programming has received a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc, a private charitable organization based in Indianapolis. The funding provided by this grant will go towards providing pre-college programming for teens from underserved high schools in Indiana. 

The Lilly Endowment has offered other grants in the tri-campus community, including one to promote mental health in Notre Dame residence halls called the ‘People With Hope to Bring Initiative.’

To be eligible for the grant, Paul Mueller explained that high schoolers must come from an underserved high school in Indiana.

Mueller, who is the director of the office of pre-college programming, said his department determines which schools are considered underserved using a variety of factors. 

 “We use professional judgment from our admissions counselors that visit these high schools to flag schools that they thought might fit an underserved criteria. In other cases, we use federal rules to determine whether a school was underserved or under-resourced,” he said.

The grant will be used to reach out to high school students who otherwise might not have been thinking about college, Mueller said.

“Our traditional ‘Summer Scholars’ student has already been thinking about college. So, this population that Lilly is funding is a little bit of an outreach population to get their college search activated,” he explained.

Because of the additional funding from the endowment, Mueller said the pre-college office has grown its ‘Summer Scholars’ program to accommodate more students.

 “We’re growing summer programs, probably by about 25 percent next year and another 25 percent the subsequent years as a result of this,” Mueller said.

The ‘Summer Scholars’ program brings students onto Notre Dame’s campus where they take a course taught by Notre Dame faculty. Last year, there were 450 students in one session of the program, however, Mueller said that by next year it is expanding to two sessions with the total number of students between 555 and 575.

One of the main changes brought on by the grant is that the program will now include a college fair as a way of connecting students to other Indiana schools, Mueller said.

“The biggest difference for the students will be that we’re adding a college fair, where we’re asking our other Indiana colleges to come up and talk about what they have to offer. It’s a recognition that especially from the Lilly-funded students, not all of them will be able to get into Notre Dame, so let’s give them the opportunity to explore what other options they might have in the state,” he said.

Muller explained that the goal is to help underserved high school students put themselves in college students’ shoes and begin to think about the possibility of attending college. 

“The biggest benefit is to get them onto campus and get them projecting themselves at a four-year college, thinking about ‘this is possible. I can do this,’” he said.

Notre Dame students can get involved with pre-college programming as resident counselors, Mueller said. The students are hired as staff in the dorms. 

“[The summer staff] provide leadership. They show students the ropes, they get them to the dining halls on time and into their classes on time. So, it’s a terrific summer employment opportunity for people that are really interested in working with high school students,” Mueller said.

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Lilly Endowment aids College’s summer youth programs

College President Katie Conboy announced in an August press release that Saint Mary’s received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. The grant will be integral in providing scholarships for Saint Mary’s pre-college programs and summer camps, senior vice president for strategy and finance Dana Strait said.

The endowment provided its funding through the Indiana Youth Programs on Campus initiative.

“Goals for the initiative include increasing the number of Indiana youth who obtain valuable postsecondary degrees and credentials,” the press release said. “It also aims to help colleges and universities strengthen how they recruit students, especially students who have been underserved in higher education.”

According to the press release, the college’s 40-year-old summer camps and pre-college programs typically introduce over 500 girls to Saint Mary’s campus each summer.

“With the Lilly Endowment grant, the College will have the capacity to host more than 1,200 students each summer,” the website reads.

Though the grant will not impact popular athletic camps hosted by the college, the press release said, it will support the Dialogue & Democracy Institute, the Embody Theology Institute and the fine arts and forensics programs.

With money from the grant, Saint Mary’s will grow these pre-college programs by allowing students to participate in them at “low cost to no cost,” Strait said.

“The Lilly Endowment is helping us to jumpstart expanding these programs offering financial assistance and we are committed to sustaining that moving forward,” she said.

Strait noted that Indiana’s college attainment rate is one of the lowest in the country.

“We’re not only flat but we’re also declining and COVID really exacerbated that trend,” she said. “We have fewer families whose parents don’t have college degrees sending their kids to college.”

The programs, Strait said, are designed to help reverse this trend.

“Part of our ambitions as an organization is to expand opportunity to offer enrichment and not only will that change brains and change perspective, but we believe that it will also advance degree-earning opportunity,” she said.

When families visit the Saint Mary’s campus, Strait said, they develop an important sense of comfort.

“Research shows that then they’ll be more likely to feel confident submitting the college application, submitting a deposit, navigating the financial aid process and subsequently enrolling,” she said.

The programs also aim to be a positive influence during summer breaks that could otherwise be a vulnerable time for urban girls.

Contrasting with many suburban youths, “vacations” for urban youth are “where you’re stuck at home while your parents are at work and you have nothing to do all summer long,” Strait said. “It’s a really different definition.”

Rather than spending their time bored at home, the programs aid urban youth in making good experiences over the summer, Strait said.

“It broadens horizons by giving them exposure to a wider variety of experience,” she said.

The programs, Strait said, embody the College’s goals for empowering women.

“One of the central themes is being an institution that provides access opportunity and empowerment to women at all stages of life,” she said.

Liam Price

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