MHS students try out college life

July 8, 2011

Martinsville Bulletin

Six Martinsville High School students have earned their first college credits in the Martinsville Advanced Study Program on June 13-July 1 at Radford University.

The six rising juniors — Shaina Cook, Jalen Dillard, Morgan Gutshall, Steven Jones, Christina Mitchell and Sean Scaffidi — participated in the program, a collaboration between Radford University, Martinsville Schools and the New College Institute.

The purpose of the program was to introduce high-achieving students to a collegiate-level academic experience.

“Now that I have gotten a taste of what it will be like,” said Dillard, who aspires to a career in automotive engineering, “I will be ready.”

Dillard and fellow Martinsville Bulldogs completed a course titled “Interpersonal Communication” taught by Betty Kennan, a Radford University faculty member and internship coordinator in the School of Communication.

The experience began with a week of instruction at the New College Institute in uptown Martinsville, followed by two weeks on the RU campus where the students were introduced to the lifestyle that comes with college.

“You have to depend on yourself,” said Gutshall, an aspiring pediatrician, regarding the difference between high school and college. “There’s nobody to wake you up to get you to class on time, and you have to put more focus on the classwork.”

The students, nominated and selected by the Martinsville High School faculty, visited RU at an opportune time. The campus was alive with Quest, the annual orientation program for incoming freshmen and families.

RU is also hosting more than 400 high school students from across the commonwealth at Virginia’s Summer Residential Governor’s School for the Humanities and Visual and Performing Arts.

“I was surprised that everyone was so friendly,” said Scaffidi, who hopes to be a lawyer. “There was nobody here telling you to get out of their way. It was just ‘Hey, how are you?’”

To create the experience of moving into a college dorm for the first time, the students’ families accompanied them to begin their first week on campus. Upon arrival, students and families were briefed on the college experience with orientation sessions presented by Steven Nape, vice provost for enrollment planning and management, and Ellen Taylor, interim director of career services. Dorm advisers were Linda Preston of Martinsville Schools and Tom Fitzgibbons, who was with the city schools at the time.

After the opening orientation, students moved into the RU Governor’s Quad, ate in the Dalton Dining Center and prepared for their daily four-hour class in Young Hall. The class, which focused on developing interpersonal communication skills, included reading assignments, chapter quizzes, online projects, and midterm and final exams. It concluded with oral presentations.

The first-ever program was initiated by Fitzgibbons and Bill Kennan, vice provost for academic affairs. Kennan said he hopes similar initiatives can be developed with other school districts to help talented young people prepare for college by providing early experiences and smooth adjustments from high school.

“It seems that in college, you can be yourself more and meet people who are more like you,” said Mitchell, who plans to study psychology. “At first it was weird living with other people you’ve never lived with before, but I was surprised I did so well at that and with the class.”

“You had to force yourself to study, especially when there were opportunities to explore the campus and have fun — planning time to balance social, scholastic, and dorm life was the key,” added Jones, who plans to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.

Cook agreed.

“It was challenging — the quizzes were definitely more difficult than in high school,” said Cook. “Now that I’ve seen what it is like in college, I will buckle down and do better in high school.”


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