Balfour Pre-College Academy prepares high school students for college
By Catherine Winkler
Friday, July 26, 2019
While July is normally a quiet month around IU, for two weeks the School of Education is a hub of activity for students participating in the Balfour Scholars Program Pre-College Academy.
Supported by a grant from the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, the Balfour Scholars Program (BSP) is a free program for high school juniors designed to help cultivate student academic and career development while minimizing misperceptions about affordability, unfamiliarity with higher education and difficulties with cultural adjustment that prevent students from graduating from college.
The first week is an action-packed one, with days starting at 7 a.m. Participants spend their mornings in group sessions with topics like getting into college, paying for college and finding community on campus. Workshop sessions are facilitated by several offices around IU, including the Office of First Year Experiences, Office of Student Financial Assistance, Office of Admissions, and the Student Academic Center, with dinner and evening events from the African American Arts Institute or the Black Film Center/Archives wrapping up the day. Students come together to discuss forming relationships to racial and gender identities and communities in groups facilitated by graduate students, many from the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology.
Now in its seventh year, the Pre-College Academy’s 2019 cohort included its first international students and exceeded the goal for the number of student participants for the second year in the Academy’s history.
Some of the students stay an extra week for more activities focused on STEM careers and projects. The week is centered around a workplace simulation project with the local Baxter Health Pharmaceutical company. Students tour Baxter, work with STEM Director Adam Scribner to design a project to address a problem faced by the company and present their ideas to Baxter officials at the end of the camp. Throughout the week, the students tour science labs on the IU campus, learn about racially and ethnically underrepresented lesser known/hidden figures in STEM and participate in culturally enriching activities and discussions each evening.
The program is important to each individual participant who leave our events feeling that college success is more achievable, culture is more significant and careers are more attainable.
Balfour Director Carl Darnell
The events and outreach provided by the program and Pre-College Academy are unique to IU. Coordinators travel to schools with high percentages of students on free and reduced lunch, specifically those that also have high proportions of students who identify as African American, indigenous and Latinx. The program also works with high school counselors, teachers and administrators to share its resources with students who have average grades and may not envision themselves attending college. Students who participate in the Pre-College Academy are then assigned a college mentor, normally a Balfour student enrolled at IU and trained in peer mentoring by the Office of Mentoring Services and Leadership Development, who will serve them through the Mentor Year program for their entire senior year. The Scholars serve as college mentors and discuss topics of college knowledge and fit with the Balfour students while helping them reach out to colleges they are interested in attending, providing social support and answering questions the students have about academic expectations, college life and finding balance for underrepresented students.
Beyond Mentor Year, the program encourages involvement and leadership for Scholars enrolled at IU by sponsoring the Balfour Underrepresented Students and underrepresented student support services initiatives. Both Balfour US and Usss host monthly, culturally conscious events and help the program office provide wraparound services to impact students’ sense of belonging and improve retention.
Carl Darnell is the Director of the Balfour Scholars Program and Interim Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. He says Balfour has fostered the growth and leadership development of numerous student leaders on campus.
“The program is important to each individual participant who leave our events feeling that college success is more achievable, culture is more significant and careers are more attainable,” he said.
Many students visiting through the Pre-College Academy find their college home in Bloomington: 200 Balfour Pre-College Academy participants have enrolled at IU since the first cohort in 2013, with some even choosing to study at the School of Education.