This year, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the five-week program had to quickly shift from an in-person to a virtual format. Drawing on lessons learned when the campus closed in the spring, Michael Brown, the assistant dean for access programs and director of the SoE EOF/EOP program, was able to oversee a seamless transition for the Summer Institute’s 100 incoming first-year students.
“The biggest challenge has been how we transition all of our material to a remote format and how we deliver content and information that may have been suitable in person,” he says. “Our program requires collaboration and interaction with students and we worked hard to create a community online where students feel connected while engaging with computer screens all day.”
Brown and his staff used existing programs as a template for this summer’s offerings, which included mandatory writing, physics, math, computer programming, and engineering orientation classes. Mindful of student attention spans, classes were reduced from 80- to 60-minute sessions, while on weekdays the program ran from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with two scheduled breaks.
Weekends had an extracurricular focus that featured guest and student organization speakers. “We used weekends to keep the students engaged and to show them what they can expect during the fall.”
Holistic advising, mentoring, and tutoring have long been hallmarks of the Summer Institute. “Our goals were to still offer the same level of transitional support as we’ve offered in any other summer,” Brown explains. “This year, program mentors and counselors met with students daily. Group chats and important conversations about everything from financial aid to coursework helped prepare the students for the fall and provide them with the tools and resources they need to become independent learners and thinkers.”
Program participants would agree. “Before I started the program, I was nervous about what the future held. The idea of learning remotely while pursuing a rigorous degree was unsettling,” recalls Michelle Forbes. “But I not only gained the resources to better prepare myself for my courses, but also a community of people who uplift and empower one another. I can say that I am well prepared for this fall semester – and what is yet to come.
“The EOF/EOP program gave me a head start to my fall semester,” says Sabrina Perez, who was concerned at the start about making personal connections with other students, professors, and advisors remotely. “However, I was able to make friendships and personal connections with everyone. The program definitely gave me a glimpse of how the fall semester would operate – and above all, helped show me that I was capable of doing college level work early on.”
“The program prepared me for the fall semester,” says Handell Quiros. “It illuminated what would be waiting for me in the fall, and not only showed the different workloads of each major, but also the different resources at my disposal come fall.”
Brown takes pride in the success of this summer’s virtual Summer Institute. – and its students. “I’m proud of the students for sticking through with this – we asked a lot of them. I’m beyond proud of what they accomplished in five weeks. And I’m proud we were able to provide some stability for them so they’ll know what to expect in the fall,” he says. “I’m proud of the system we were able to maintain remotely.”
Yet Brown’s work is far from complete. “I don’t want to skip a beat with EOF services and support as first-year students join the larger EOF population when the fall semester starts. We want them to feel like a family and to have given them the ability to be successful at Rutgers.” He explains that this will be possible thanks to ongoing state financial support, a seasoned professional staff, and productive campus community partnerships that connect students to financial aid, accounting, academic services, student organizations and more.
“We’re not just a summer program. We have at least four years to make them a part of this community – and we’ll go above and beyond to make sure they feel connected,” he says. “While incoming students may get a little more attention at first, our programs, workshops, and services are all available remotely to meet the needs of the entire EOF/EOP community of more than 300 students.”
Rutgers School of Engineering is a national leader in diversity and inclusion both within the school and by serving as a pipeline for workforce diversity. Its programs have been recognized by the American Society of Engineering Education, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. SoE additionally nurtures undergraduate diversity through its Engineers of the Future program – an extension of its Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program that gives economically and educationally disadvantaged students access to higher education.