TTU Summer Scholars Program helps students learn about college, career and community

A grant-funded program at Tennessee Tech University last month served as more than just a bridge between high school and college for a dozen students who’ve been accepted for admission this fall.

The month-long Summer Scholars Program was also designed to be a bridge to academic and career success and community involvement for the participants who came from across the state.

“The purpose of this program was to expose students to issues of diversity, especially as those issues relate to the workplace,” said Robert Owens, TTU’s Minority Affairs director who led the project.

Funded by a Tennessee Board of Regents Access and Diversity grant, it brought together some students from the state’s underrepresented rural counties with some from Tennessee’s metro areas, all of whom will be majoring in a STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) discipline.

In addition to providing those students with two valuable courses, math and an introduction to college life that helps prepare them for things like time management techniques, the program also provided three educational and professional fieldtrips and an opportunity for community service involvement.

“This program was definitely designed to keep their schedules busy, but every activity will somehow benefit them later in their academic or professional lives. We tried to make the most of the month-long program,” Owens said.

The group went on fieldtrips to the National Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Ala., the Nissan plant in Smyrna and the Eastman Chemical plant in Kingsport.

“Most of these students had never before toured a facility of that size, and we wanted to show them how their major directly applies to the type of work they could be doing in their careers,” he said.

“At the same time, both of those Tennessee facilities employ a significant number of TTU alumni, and we want to continue fostering those kinds of relationships,” Owens continued.

Members of the group also had to put their intuitive thinking and carpentry skills to work for their community service project.

They worked in cooperation with the Upper Cumberland Child Care Resource and Referral Center to design and construct musical instruments for four Macon County childcare centers that were damaged or destroyed by tornadoes earlier this year.

“Service learning is a university priority, and this project showed these students that they can actually use the skills they’re learning through their majors to help the greater community. That’s service learning at its best,” Owens said.

Evening program sessions gave the participating students insight into such personal development issues as time management and study skills, credit and finances, healthy relationships and drug and alcohol use.

Organizers also formed focus groups that allowed them to evaluate the daily experiences of the students who participated in the program and measure the evolution of their thinking, knowledge and experiences.

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