Amin Gonzalez, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Yale, recently sat around a large table with 15 others as they reviewed and critiqued the applications of three students. After deliberation and candid discussion, the group voted to accept, reject, or defer the applicants.
Gonzalez, however, was not working with his colleagues in undergraduate admissions. Instead, he was consulting with rising high school seniors from Texas as part of Yale’s commitment to hosting a series of programs this summer to help students from all backgrounds access college opportunities.
The students, from the Houston Independent School District, were visiting Yale through the EMERGE Fellowship, a program founded in 2010 by Yale graduate Rick Cruz to prepare talented students from underserved communities to attend and succeed at top-tier colleges.
As the students discussed the applications with Gonzalez, they focused on all the applicants’ attributes: academic achievement, obstacles overcome, and initiatives taken; teachers’ recommendations; and engagement with their fellow students and communities.
“Despite being shy, he ran for school office,” one student noted of an applicant. “He’s smart, but he also shares his knowledge,” another student said of a second applicant. “I feel there was a lack of passion for the school” was another critique of a Yale applicant’s profile. (The applications were authentic, but identifying information had been changed.)
“I may be out of a job before too long,” Gonzalez joked, approving of the students’ “holistic” examination of the applicants.
“We have to pay close attention to everything,” Gonzalez had told the students earlier. “We wouldn’t ask you to write essays if we didn’t care what you tell us about yourself.”
He also advised them to always take advantage of an opportunity to have an interview at a college to which they apply, and to seek out their teachers and counselors for recommendations to include in their college applications.
During their time at Yale, all of the 92 EMERGE students attended a seminar-style lecture with a volunteer Yale faculty member, heard from Yale students who were the first in their families to attend college, and engaged in a “culture shock discussion” about the transition from high school to a top college. They also experienced living and dining at a Yale residential college.
Rainer Massei, a student at the Houston Academy for International Studies, who met Cruz when he was speaking on behalf of Yale before EMERGE was established, said the visit to Yale gave her “concrete” exposure to an Ivy League institution that she said brochures and websites cannot match.
“I love every single part of it,” she said of her visit to campus. “I know about the students and their life, and about the professors and what they teach and how they interact.”
Massei, who immigrated to the United States from Italy when she was 13, said she planned to apply to Yale and study international relations. “I attend Modern United Nations activities at my school, and that’s something I have a really strong passion for.”
The visit by Massei and the other EMERGE students grew from a trip to Houston last fall by Undergraduate Admissions Dean Jeremiah Quinlan, Ezra Stiles College Master Stephen Pitti, and Rosalinda Garcia, assistant dean of Yale College and director of the Latino Cultural Center.
“This seemed like a great opportunity for Yale to help address issues of college access for students in Texas and elsewhere,” Pitti said. “Houston's youth population mirrors what the United States may look like in the coming years, so there is every reason to expect that successful programs in Houston public schools can provide models for other cities committed to supporting first-generation college students. Yale should lend its support to these important efforts.”
Pitti was impressed by the EMERGE students and those running their schools.
“It was powerful to speak with young people who sought out opportunities to meet with teachers and administrators after school and on weekends in order to prepare their college applications. The school system was putting a lot of resources into new programs to support these students, and the administrators and teachers involved in the program were obviously very committed to their students’ success,” said Pitti, who organized the faculty seminars that the EMERGE students attended at Yale, and also hosted a welcoming dinner in his college for all the students.
The program has already proved successful: Three EMERGE students who have graduated from high school will be entering Yale this fall, and EMERGE will keep in contact with them during their college careers.
Yale also partnered with College Summit and hosted two sessions on campus this summer offering training for rising high school seniors, who also stayed in a residential college.
College Summit works with high schools to identify the most influential students in a class and enlist these students into its corps of Peer Leaders, who receive intensive training and then share with their classmates their enthusiasm for college and their college entrance know-how, including how to apply and how to pay.
The teens chosen to become Peer Leaders are not necessarily the highest academic achievers in their schools, but they can make a difference among their classmates, noted Quinlan. One of the College Summit sessions at Yale was attended solely by students of New Haven high schools.
Quinlan said the same message he would give to high school seniors regarding college and the admissions process is more effective if delivered by the students’ informed friends.”
Freshman Scholars at Yale
While the college destinations of the high school students who took part in this summer’s EMERGE program and College Summit are yet to be determined, 35 other students living and studying on campus this summer know where they will be matriculating; They will enter Yale College this fall with the Class of 2018.
The students have come to New Haven for the Freshman Scholars at Yale program, which provides students from low-income families or families without a college-going history with a useful introduction to life at college. They also become familiar with the many resources on which they can draw as they navigate the classroom and the campus.
“The transition to college can be more acute if you are the first in your family, school or community to attend a selective institution,” Quinlan said of Yale’s decision to launch the program last year.
The students live in Stiles College with advisers and student counselors during the program’s five weeks. The program is completely free, and the freshmen also receive a stipend for travel to and from Yale, as well as having their $1,600 student summer income contribution waived.
All incoming Yale students need fundamental writing and quantitative reasoning skills to be successful academically, so Freshman Scholars take a popular Yale College writing seminar for which they receive credit. Students may also participate in structured STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) guidance and preparation focused on enhancing their critical thinking and quantitative skills. The summer program also hosts a variety of workshops, seminars, and activities to acquaint students with campus resources such as academic advisers, career counselors, personal librarians, and galleries and museums.
“The program goes hand-in-hand with Yale’s strong outreach effort to high-achieving students from low-income families around the country who historically have not been aware that highly selective colleges are accessible and affordable to them,” Quinlan said. “We want them to consider Yale and other top schools, and if they come to Yale, we want them to have the opportunity to engage with Yale early and feel more comfortable at the start of freshman year.”