Q&A: Rochester Institute of Technology and Rochester Prep High School partnership
Heading into its 10th anniversary, the partnership among RIT and Rochester Prep is thriving. Ian Mortimer, vice president for the Division of Enrollment Management, talks more about the endeavor.
June 27, 2023 will mark the 10-year anniversary of the Rochester Institute of Technology and Rochester Prep High School partnership – aimed at providing post-secondary educational opportunities to students through RIT, and resources that help with college readiness and the goal toward a 100 percent graduation rate. After all, leadership at RIT said there are a plethora of benefits to graduating college.
“There is a lot of good things that happen when going to college, but there are also some bad things that can happen if someone goes to college and doesn’t graduate, so minimizing that and doing everything we can to focus on the right goal is where we’re at,” said Ian Mortimer, vice president for the Division of Enrollment Management at RIT.
According to a study from the Consumer Reports National Research Center, students who attend college, but do not graduate are four times more likely to default on student loans than their counterparts who graduate. That, Mortimer said, is just one of the issues.
“I think the spirit of partnership as it was designed was around getting kids into college, and I think what we’ve learned is that it’s only half of the objective,” he said. “It’s understanding that we want 100 percent graduation rate of these students, because that’s the responsibility we have to them.”
Now, in the hands of RIT’s K-12 University Center, employees such as Executive Director Donna Burnette and Kids on Campus Director Kraig Farrell are working to build a trust among those Rochester Prep students that will last from high school through college and beyond.
In 2018, the school reached a milestone after its entire graduating class enrolled in college – three who attended RIT. In 2022, Zaid Abdulsalam, Ismael Cortes Jr. and Justice Marbury graduated from RIT. And since then, 36 Rochester Prep students have enrolled at RIT, according to the school’s Director of College Access and Success, Adrienne Sopinski.
The partnership was established in 2013 by board of trustee member Ron Zarrella who originally provided funding and vision to create a sustainable campaign with the university and the Rochester-based charter school, operated by Uncommon Schools. Opportunities offered to Rochester Prep students include connections to the K-12 center; financial planning; information about RIT programs; regular on-campus activities; and the Capstone program, which allows seniors the chance to work alongside RIT faculty in hands-on research projects in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math.
But the partnership with Rochester Prep isn’t the only collaboration among RIT and community organizations facilitated by the K-12 center. The newest is one created last year with Dream Charter High School in Harlem, New York City.
In the Q&A below, Mortimer take times to answer some questions about the Rochester Prep partnership, and how it’s being facilitated by the K-12 University Center, among other partnerships and programs connected to RIT.
How did the partnership among RIT and Rochester Prep start?
The original relationship came from one of our board (of trustee) members, Ron Zarrella. Ron is an active and generous benefactor with the charter school network that Rochester Prep is a member of. There was a budding assumption that if RIT were more involved in the curricular experiences within the Rochester Prep community, then it would create a better visibility of what the opportunities are at RIT and what college readiness looks like. It’s about working with faculty and staff to build a rapport, gain confidence and a sense of identity as an RIT college student. So, Ron and Kit Mayberry (former RIT vice president for strategic planning) were the original brokers of the partnership, and since then has evolved into what it is today.
*Rochester Prep is part of the Uncommon Schools, a charter-school management system that oversees schools in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
What does the partnership mean?
I think the spirit of partnership as it was designed was around getting kids into college, and I think what we’ve learned is that it’s only half of the objective. Now, the objective is really about graduation. When Kit, Ron and others were creating this vision, it was about inspiring students and giving them a vehicle financially and emotionally to come to RIT. It’s understanding that we want 100 percent graduation rate of these students, because that’s the responsibility we have to them. There is a lot of good things that happen when going to college, but there is also some bad things that can happen if someone goes to college and doesn’t graduate. … Minimizing that and doing everything we can to focus on the right goal is where we’re at.
What’s being done to help toward student success?
One of the things is having a series of engagements. … We meet weekly and go through a lot of different topics and identify work pending to make sure it’s operationally ready to go. The second thing we talk about is students on a case management basis. If there is any kind of evidence a student (needs help), we’re learning about it sooner than later. Being award of needs and being aware of students and where they’re at is important. Students often work with who they trust the most, so they’ll communicate that way – their community at Rochester Prep or, for some individuals, it might be here on campus with Donna and Kraig. Looking at it from all different perspectives and helping with those kinds of roles and responsibilities is a big part of it.
What opportunities are available on campus for Rochester Prep students?
A lot. The biggest group ever was on campus for a treasure hunt experience (this fall), and we’re there visiting the school every third week. There is also the capstone program and other opportunities to provide a much tighter connection with the students in terms of retention and graduation rate efforts as far as helping with financial planning and meeting with families. There is a way to make this successful in a tactical, hand-to-hand, case management thought process, and understanding where the students are at and making sure their needs are taken care of – from getting them to RIT to helping them along the way toward graduation.
*To learn more about the Capstone program, visit this link: Capstone
How and why did the K-12 University Center inherit this relationship?
After Kit Mayberry retired, we wanted to take a look and do a better job of connecting Rochester Prep to the people they work with most. K-12 does a lot of great work with them, so it made sense that way, because they do a lot of work and focus with student support, college success and mentorship that was already happening. It didn’t make sense for there to be two points of contact, when it could just be facilitated through K-12.
What other partnerships does RIT have that the K-12 University Center facilitates?
A couple. The newest partnership is with a charter school in Harlem, New York called Dream (Charter High School). Donna and Kraig have been really helpful in providing support services. All students from the Dream Academy enrolled at RIT are in the School of Individualized Study particularly because of the high quality advising that happens at SOIS and it was best to build the cohort through that. That partnership was generated out of interest with another trustee member involved in the school and wanted to see if there was a pipeline opportunity for those students to come to RIT, so he has donated time, focus and resources to help those students. The other thing is the Rochester City Scholars program. A lot of K-12 is embedded in Rochester city schools and serve as a voice and ear in the schools in terms of how those students are doing.
Why is it so important to be connected to the community?
It’s huge, but at the end of the day it’s just people who have a similar objective and understand the importance of helping students find economic mobility and empowerment, and fostering everything in between. The goal is to breakdown the organizational barriers and do what’s best for student success, and it’s a teamwork process with the stakeholders involved.