Before her four years with the Rural Scholars Program, Courtney was not completely sure what she wanted to do after high school — or even what post-graduation would look like.
I had a vague idea of what I thought I wanted,” she said. “But I hadn’t really thought much or had any meaningful experience that would show me what it actually meant.” Now, going into her junior year, Courtney already has outlined the steps she will need to take to apply for scholarships and attend college.
“I want to be an occupational therapist,” she states. “It wasn’t until our career exploration workshop with Rural Scholars that I really understood that is the place for me.”
Kent State University's Rural Scholars Program offers first-generation students from Columbiana County and neighboring areas a college access program designed to give them and their families the knowledge, rigorous academic exposure and social support they will need in order to attend postsecondary education.
“The goal is for every student in our program to complete postsecondary education with the credentials necessary to succeed in his or her career,” Wendy Pfrenger, the coordinator for the program, said.
The program prepares 98 low-income students for career and postsecondary educational opportunities through individual and group mentoring that provides community- and college-based learning experiences, caring relationships and academic guidance. Rural scholars are exposed to a wide variety of career and educational pathways through workshops and on-site experiences. Mentors meet with students both in and out of schools on a weekly basis to chat, play games, do schoolwork and work on career exploration curricula.
The program, rooted in an appreciation for community and culture and celebrating collaboration, connects local partners to produce innovative curriculum and dynamic service experiences. As students succeed, they have opportunities to reinvest their energies and talents back into their own communities.
Courtney is not only held to a high standard, but she has found herself establishing strong relationships and skills alongside 98 other scholars. She said that the strong relationships she has developed alongside the rigor of the program have instilled a sense of confidence regarding future college horizons.
“This program is very rigorous,” she said. “But because of that, it has given me the support and confidence to go and do amazing at it, and I know the steps now to make college and career readiness happen. I’ll be the first person in my entire family to go to college, and my brother has joined the program, too. My family and I are in awe — if it weren’t for this program and its support, I don’t think I would know all the steps necessary to achieve my dreams.”
First-generation college students often state that they came to college feeling underprepared for the journey ahead. With programs like the Rural Scholars Program, students in Columbiana County have more of the resources they need for successful college and career experiences.