UConn’s Office of First Year Programs and Learning Communities as well as faculty in the Neag School of Education are in the final stages of opening a new residential Learning Community for African-American males, intended to increase these students’ graduation rates and graduate and/or professional school placement.
UConn’s Learning Community Program, which currently houses about 2,500 undergraduate students across 17 distinct Learning Communities, provides undergraduate students with opportunities to investigate specific areas of interest together through guided courses and co-curricular activities, while assisting them in their transition to academic life.
ScHOLA2RS House – which will be UConn’s 18th Learning Community – is slated to launch this fall to prepare African-American males for success during their undergraduate and post-baccalaureate careers. Making its home in the new NextGen CT residence hall, ScHOLA2RS House will guide 40 Huskies from all fields of study as they prepare for the future by engaging them in faculty and peer mentorship, undergraduate research, career development, Study Abroad, and graduate and/or professional school preparatory opportunities. Erik Hines, assistant professor of educational psychology in the Neag School, will serve as the new Learning Community’s faculty director.
ScHOLA2RS House will guide 40 Huskies from all fields of study as they prepare for the future by engaging them in faculty and peer mentorship, undergraduate research, career development, Study Abroad, and graduate and/or professional school preparatory opportunities.
Although retention and graduation rates at UConn are high – 82.5 percent of students graduate in six years – there has not been support in place designed specifically for African-American male students. Not only are these students least represented on campus, but they also have the lowest retention and graduation rates, says Hines. In 2012, only 54 percent of African-Americans males graduated in six years, the lowest of any racial group at UConn.
Hines says it is not an issue of whether African-American males have the capability to excel in school; rather, it is their environment that sometimes inhibits their potential. At many predominantly white institutions nationwide, he says, elements of African-American culture are harder to find, which can make some students experience a sense of detachment from their universities.
“African-American males already know they have the potential [to succeed],” Hines says. “It’s about facilitating programmatic activities that engage their potential and that they can incorporate into the daily grind of college.”
The mission of ScHOLA2RS House – which stands for Scholastic House of Leaders who are African-American Researchers and Scholars – is not, however, meant to exclude or segregate African-American males from the rest of the community. According to David Ouimette, executive director for UConn’s Learning Communities, its goal is to build connections among members and within the greater University community.
Groundwork for Success
Members of ScHOLA2RS House, which may include students with racial identities besides African-American, will embark on a two-year course of programs intended to ensure their undergraduate success and prepare them for graduate/professional school. According to Hines, the community’s only required components are the willingness to be prepared for graduate/professional school, and completion of undergraduate research and a first-year experience course focusing on career development, navigating the University, and solving grand challenges.
Other opportunities available to ScHOLA2RS House students include a speaker series with distinguished African-American male faculty from UConn, including the law and medical schools. There will also be graduate-school preparation, field trips to top graduate schools across the country, and Study Abroad excursions – all of which are free for ScHOLA2RS House residents.
Hines says African-American males are less likely to study abroad than other college students, but these experiences are important in developing effective leaders and problem solvers.
“We want them to have those experiences that are global. We want to have global leaders, men that take on those challenges in our complex world,” he says. “We want problem solvers – that’s what we’re having kids go to school to become.”
Perhaps just as important as the formal research and course requirements are the informal discussion sessions that Hines says he plans to hold about twice a month. The discussions will revolve around issues and happenings at UConn as well as topics relevant to the African-American male identity.
“Members will get the opportunity to talk about what they’re facing every single day,” Ouimette adds. “It’s about having a social community network in which they can support each other, but one that also pushes them back out to the community so they can integrate into it and explore.”