By Calmetta Coleman
Photo by Robert Kozloff

Through Collegiate Scholars, we are creating pathways for students to excel at both colleges and careers that they might not otherwise attain to or even be aware of.”
—Sonya Malunda
Senior associate vice president for community engagement

Each summer, 70 students from Chicago Public Schools settle into classrooms on the University of Chicago campus for their first college courses. As participants in the prestigious Collegiate Scholars Program, many have just completed ninth grade.

“It’s not unlike students in the regular academic year. Some catch on quickly, and some are in shock,” says Allen Sanderson, a senior lecturer in economics, who has taught in the program since it started in 2003. “But can they all hold their own a year or two later? Yes.”

UChicago developed the Collegiate Scholars Program with support from the Crown family of Chicago, to prepare talented 10th- through 12th-grade students for admission and success at top colleges and universities. The three-year program of academic and cultural enrichment is free to participants, most of whom are from low-income backgrounds. It has proven highly successful, with 100 percent of its graduates having been accepted to four-year colleges and 93 percent completing college within six years.

The distinctive program is poised to grow, with help from a generous gift to the University of $50 million from UChicago alumna Harriet Heyman, AM’72, and her husband, Sir Michael Moritz. The new financial support will enable the Office of Civic Engagement, which manages the program, to increase the number of students accepted into Collegiate Scholars by nearly 40 percent, and all 108 scholars in the year-round program will have the opportunity to take part in the summer component on the UChicago campus.

“The University has a long-standing commitment to increasing college access, and college readiness is an important part of that commitment,” says Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement. “The Collegiate Scholars Program is helping Chicago students thrive not only at the University of Chicago, but at top colleges across the country, and we will now be able to increase that impact.”

Alumni credit program for success

Alumni of the program attest to its impact in their lives. Victor Scotti, a South Side native who was a Collegiate Scholar from 2006-09, says the program “played a pivotal role” in his success in both college and high school, helping him structure his studies and his college search. After finishing the program, Scotti was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, which he had learned about and visited during the program’s college tours.

“Collegiate Scholars provided my first touch point to UPenn, and if it wasn’t for the program, I probably would not have gone there,” says Scotti, who graduated from UPenn and now works for Google.

Luis Granja, a Collegiate Scholar from 2010-13 and now a third-year in the College at UChicago, says the program stretched his awareness of what he could accomplish. “It opened my horizons to do things I never imagined, like taking classes with college professors and doing laboratory research,” says Granja, who was the first in his immigrant family to go to college. During his second year as a scholar, Granja applied and was accepted into an organic chemistry research program at UChicago. “I felt like I was treated like one of the researchers. I wasn’t just a high school student,” he recalls.

Like Granja, about 70 percent of current Collegiate Scholars will be first-generation college students. About 80 percent are African American or Latino, and the students come from about 39 different schools across the city.

Abel Ochoa, director of the Collegiate Scholars program, notes that the level of college readiness varies widely among new students in the program.

“Our scholars are all very ambitious, motivated, personable, and open. However, getting them all on the same page academically, and then raising that bar, takes time and a lot of individualized attention,” Ochoa says. “That is why we greatly appreciate the faculty who lend their time to teach in the program.”

‘Transformative’ experience for faculty

UChicago faculty who teach in the program say Collegiate Scholars is an opportunity for them as well as for the high school students.

“I found it completely transformative,” says Daisy Delogu, a professor of French literature who began teaching humanities core courses for the program in 2011. “With the Collegiate Scholars students, you feel like you really have a chance to make a difference in a person’s life.”

As a faculty member, Sanderson adds, “there are those things you have to do, and there are those things you get to do—and want to do. I would put Collegiate Scholars in the category of things I get to do.” Both Delogu and Sanderson have encouraged other faculty members to teach in the program.

Collegiate Scholars is one of four college readiness programs that are overseen by Sonya Malunda, senior associate vice president for community engagement in the Office of Civic Engagement. In addition to faculty, she says, the program has benefitted from support from a range of areas, including partnerships with local schools and corporations, as well as collaboration among the scholars themselves. UChicago undergraduates and graduate students also support the program in a variety of ways, including through CSP LEAD, a leadership program designed for Collegiate Scholars and facilitated by second-year students at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“Through Collegiate Scholars, we are creating pathways for students to excel at both colleges and careers that they might not otherwise attain to or even be aware of,” says Malunda. “We have also established a network of alumni who maintain ties to the program and with each other, which further supports their long-term success.”

Collegiate Scholars have gone on to attend some of the nation’s most selective universities, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Georgetown, and the University of Chicago. The program has 479 alumni around the world.

Sanderson, who also serves on the advisory board for the program, says, “It’s nice to have them come here, but it’s just as nice to see them be successful wherever they go.”

Originally published on February 17, 2016.