Incoming first-year students launch RIT careers early online through DDI Summer Experience

A record 83 students participated in the program held virtually this year

Darnae Paulley, a first-year psychology student from the Bronx, N.Y., is one of more than 80 students to participate in the Division of Diversity and Inclusion Summer Experience this year.

More than 80 first-year Rochester Institute of Technology students from underrepresented populations began their college careers early and from home this summer. The students participated in the Division of Diversity and Inclusion (DDI) Summer Experience, a five-week program held virtually for the first time this year to help students successfully transition to college.

Each student in the program took one of four credit-bearing classes—college algebra, precalculus, writing seminar, or intercultural communications—in a synchronous online format. The students also received coaching from DDI staff that will continue into the fall, participated in workshops hosted by the Academic Success Center, attended sessions about mental health held by Staff Psychologist Odessa Despot, and engaged in fun community-building activities ranging from lip sync battles to game nights.

James Macchiano, director of the Multicultural Center for Academic Success (MCAS) and one of the program’s organizers, said that the program’s goals are to ensure the students feel confident taking college classes and connected to a community. He was unsure how they would be able to achieve the latter goal since the program was held online for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic, but was pleased with how well students have been bonding.

“Students seem to be connecting well,” said Macchiano. “The question was, can you still build community in a virtual capacity? Because that’s half of what the summer program has been about. But it does seem to be happening, the students seem to be building some friendships or at least getting a comfort level with some other students who are coming to RIT this fall.”

The students participating in the DDI Summer Experience come from programs including RIT’s New York State Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) and the Destler/Johnson Rochester City Scholars, as well as underrepresented students from across the country who aren’t affiliated with these scholarship programs. The students are taking the classes in states as far as Texas and California and there are even two participants taking classes from outside the country in Japan and Nigeria. About 35 of the students are gaining additional credits by also taking classes through the First Class Academy.

Also for the first time this year, the program worked with Emily Mehlman, program coordinator from the Center for Advancing STEM Teaching, Learning and Evaluation (CASTLE) to train four upper-class students in pedagogy so they can serve as learning assistants (LAs) for the classes. The LAs are paired with faculty and support them by facilitating peer-to-peer small group sessions and providing insight to the faculty to help them improve learning outcomes.

Darnae Paulley, a first-year psychology student from the Bronx, N.Y., said the LA group sessions and other community building programs helped her establish a network of friends that she is excited to meet when she moves into her dorm room in the Unity House.

“I feel like I really connected with the students I see frequently in the LA sessions,” said Paulley. “At first, I was kind of apprehensive about doing the program online because it was originally going to be a campus-based thing, but I actually really enjoy it. I thought it was going to be difficult to connect with my peers since it’s over Zoom, but I feel like the program has been doing an amazing job with connecting us.”

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