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USF Pre-College Gives High School Students A Taste of Higher Learning

May 14, 2013

Students work on a water filtration experiment during USF Pre-College 2012 Global Sustainability class
Credit Ryan Dillow / WUSF

Last summer, USF Pre-College made its debut as the first comprehensive summer college preparation program created by USF and led by university faculty.

Around 200 high school juniors and seniors-to-be took part in one of seven different courses, with the hope of getting ready for the next step in their education.

Now, it’s coming back bigger than ever. Kathy Barnes, the director of USF Pre-College, says last year’s success has led to the expansion of the program, which plans on taking in 240 students across nine courses in this summer’s session.

"We didn’t give the students fluff, we gave them substance," said Barnes. "The whole reason we began the Pre-College Program is for student success. When students came in, they might not know exactly what direction they wanted to go, and this was an opportunity to explore different careers, different majors, so when they came to college, they were more prepared.”

Juan Dominguez was a member of the USF Patel College’s Global Sustainability course, where students looked first-hand at concepts like water filtration, both in the field and in the lab.

“I’m starting to understand more of the college dynamics, how professors work with students and how the difference between a lab in a college and a lab in high school is pretty large," said Dominguez in an interview last year. "We’re more individual and yet they’re still there watching us.”

Dominguez is completing his senior year in the King High School International Baccalaureate program.

Barnes says he’s the kind of student who might benefit from a Pre-College course being offered for the first time this year. It’s a unique program where IB students live on campus while getting advice on writing the 4,000 word research paper that’s the cornerstone of their final year of high school.

“It prepares students for the International Baccalaureate essay for their senior year," said Barnes. "The only other program that’s offered in the entire world that’s residential is at St. Andrew’s in Scotland.”

This year’s USF Pre-College will once again focus heavily on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) with three different STEM-related courses that put the emphasis on hands-on work.

“The ability of the students to see and work with their hands, to use inquiry to see the messiness of research is really at the forefront of trying to get them inspired,” said Doctor Richard Pollenz, director of USF’s Office for Undergraduate Research.

That inspiration also includes being able to work alongside USF faculty and graduate students.

“Not only do they get one-on-one mentorship, but they get to form a connection with that particular graduate student who can talk about the trials, tribulations and successes that they’ve had through their education,” said Pollenz. He will teach two separate sessions of the STEM Academy, focusing on diabetes and medicine.

This summer’s program also increases the number of residential sessions, with eight of the twelve sessions requiring students to stay on campus for some time between one week and a month. Tarpon Springs High School senior Gracie Samarkos enjoyed that opportunity last year.

“It’s funny, it’s not like a hotel—they don’t give you towels and they don’t give you the little shampoo bottles," she said. "but you feel more independent. If you want to get food, you can go get food, it’s all up to you and you just feel like you’re finally living on your own and that’s exciting.”

As a result, the Pre-College Program is paying off for the university in another way—Samarkos is one of at least a dozen students from last year's USF Pre-College who have been accepted to attend USF beginning next fall.

For registration information, visit the USF Pre-College website.