Penn State Berks Aspiring Scholars Program inspires new students

2020-2021 Berks Aspiring Scholar

Pictured is the 2020-21 class of Aspiring Scholars and their peer mentors. Standing (from left to right) are Jayden Haley, Patrick Neely, Rogelio Flores, Juwairiyya bint White, Amy Yu, Jhoan Martinez Rodriguez, G. Michael Shott Jr., Tommy Le, Alejandro Gonzalez, Aidee Santos and Arianna Mendez. Seated are Quijhanae Lee, Eduardo Contin Pimentel, Jorge Cerda, Caroline Delgado, Edith Konneh and Lestine Paye. Not pictured: Shykir Ayers and Najahmonet Thompson.

Credit: Penn State

WYOMISSING, Pa. — Every summer, eligible incoming students have an opportunity to apply to participate in the Penn State Berks Aspiring Scholars Program. The mission of the program is to help students to make a successful transition from high school to college. This year, due to restrictions in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the one-week program was offered both virtually and in person.

“The Aspiring Scholars Program one-week summer bridge experience supports first-year participants in their acclimation to the Berks campus and surrounding community,” explained Aspiring Scholars Program coordinator Alexa Hodge. “Despite the format shift, students enjoyed the experience, benefiting from interactions with a wide array of individuals and offices which supported a strong transition to the academic demands of the University.” 

Students began by meeting via Zoom with Aspiring Scholars Program coordinator Alexa Hodge, academic adviser Michael Stella and the four program peer mentors: Quijhanae Lee, G. Michael Shott Jr., Lestine Paye and Edith Konneh.

"Working with the Aspiring Scholars Program as a peer mentor changed my life in a lot of ways,” explained peer mentor and SGA president G. Michael Shott. “Through her work, Ms. Alexa has taught me and so many others the practical value of compassion, community, and most importantly the art of leading by example."

Peer mentor Quijhanae Lee added, “My experience as a peer mentor has been great! I've been given the opportunity to support first-year students with their transition to college, ensuring they have the tools needed to be successful academically, socially and mentally. Becoming a peer mentor for the Aspiring Scholars Program has been the best decision I've made thus far.” 

The program begins with an in-person Summer Bridge Program, designed to familiarize students with the various resources and support services available at Penn State Berks and the surrounding area. Students had an opportunity to meet faculty and staff and form friendships with peers in the program before the semester officially began. They also learned college success skills (time management, effective communication, financial literacy and classroom etiquette) and participated in workshops and activities with the goal of increasing confidence, encouraging self-awareness, and creating academic goals.

Scholars were also introduced to the Penn State Values and the college’s 2019-20 Common Reading Program, which features a different book each year, as well as events and activities inspired by the selection. During the summer bridge program, participants were introduced to last year’s selected book, "Teach Yourself How to Learn" by Saundra Yancy McGuire. As part of their first-year seminar, the Aspiring Scholars will read the 2020-21 book, "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance" by Angela Duckworth.

Aspiring Scholar Shyker Ayers stated, “This program has been the glue to my college experience. Without it, I do not know how I would have gained the friendships I have nor the wealth of connections.”

This year’s class of Aspiring Scholars included Shykir Ayers, Jorge Cerda, Eduardo Contin Pimentel, Caroline Delgado, Rogelio Flores, Alejandro Gonzalez, Jayden Haley, Tommy Le, Arianna Mendez, Patrick Neely, Jhoan Martinez Rodriguez, Aidee Santos, Najahmonet Thompson, Juwairiyya bint White and Amy Yu.

The program doesn’t end with the beginning of the fall semester. During their first year, participants are required to enroll in two courses: Transition to College and a First-Year Seminar, both taught by the Aspiring Scholars Program coordinator. These courses help students develop effective academic skills, explore majors and careers, foster stronger self-awareness, and cultivate leadership interests and abilities through classroom instruction and experiential activities including team-building exercises, workshops, social and cultural events, community service opportunities and field trips.

The Aspiring Scholars Program coordinator continues to work with participants to provide support and assistance throughout their college careers. This includes – but is not limited to – academic support, academic advising and coaching, staff and peer mentoring, assistance with navigating and utilizing campus services and help with any other general concerns or needs that the student may have during his or her time at Penn State Berks.

Formerly called the Educational Opportunity Program, the Aspiring Scholars Program is for Pennsylvania residents who are traditional-aged, first-year students planning to begin their studies in the fall semester. Students must demonstrate academic promise, a strong desire to achieve a college degree and financial need. In addition, they must complete a rigorous application process which includes an interview and writing sample.

Aspiring Scholars also have the opportunity to be inducted in Chi Alpha Epsilon, a national honor society created specifically for students involved in academic development programs within their university. Participants must earn a 3.00 cumulative GPA for two consecutive semesters to be eligible and must continue to strive toward academic excellence.

In summary, Aspiring Scholar Aidee Santos Acosta, stated, “The Aspiring Scholars program is the greatest contributor to my academic success. They mean more than a program to me, they mean family, union, and success.”

For additional information on the Aspiring Scholars Program, contact program coordinator Alexa E. Hodge by phone at 610-396-6074 or via email at [email protected].