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Elon Academy students conduct research on poverty, college access

Scholars created service projects and traveled to the nation's capital this summer as they sought solutions to barriers faced by underrepresented and underserved students who dream of attending college.

Elon Academy students in the "21st Century Leaders Addressing 21st Century Challenges and Opportunities" project outside the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Ten rising high school seniors enrolled in Elon University’s college access and success program conducted research and traveled this summer to Washington, D.C., as part of a project funded by the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation.

The project, “21st Century Leaders Addressing 21st Century Challenges and Opportunities,” allowed Elon Academy scholars to study poverty and its impact in society. Students paid particular attention to underrepresented and underserved students’ barriers to and opportunities for college access.

Students served as co-researchers in a youth participatory action research study with Assistant Professor Darris Means ‘05, a faculty member at the University of Georgia and the Elon Academy’s outgoing associate director; Tara Hudson, a doctoral student at North Carolina State University; and Elizabeth Tish, an undergraduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill and an Elon Academy college student.

The North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation awarded the Elon Academy a $25,000 Ribbon of Hope Grant to fund the work.

As full partners in the research process, the students read professional literature on college access, were trained in qualitative research methodology, conducted interviews and analyzed data to document the challenges faced by low-income, first-generation college students.

“As teenagers, there are not a lot of opportunities for us to have our voices heard, and even when there are, people do not listen because they think we are too young to understand,” said Kristina Torain, a student from Graham High School. “This experience has been the opposite. I think that I can speak for everyone when I say that this  research study has made us feel like we are important and has led to so many opportunities to learn about not only higher education but about ourselves and our aspirations.”

The project included a service component. Near the end of the Elon Academy’s summer program in July, scholars split into two groups that each designed and implement college-going activities for various age groups at the Boys and Girls Club of Alamance County.

Visits to the Boys & Girls Club featured hands-on activities to help younger students grasp the basics of college, and campus tours and college knowledge games to help the older students advance their understanding of college preparation. 

“Working with these bright individuals helped me realize that I have a strong passion for working with younger children,” said Kamara Troxler, a student from Williams High School. “I believe all kids need some type of inspiration in life to guide them down the right path because so many children are misled by the media and the bad influences around the world.”

Scholars visited the offices of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education when the group traveled to Washington, D.C., in early July. 

Another highlight of the project was an opportunity for students to spend a week in Washington, D.C., to meet with national organizations that are addressing issues around college access and success. The students met with leaders from the National Association for College Admission Counseling; NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education; the Institute of Higher Education Policy; and the National College Access Network.

During these meetings, the students learned more about college access and success to enhance their research study, and they had an opportunity to share  opinions on college access and success as well as preliminary research findings. Scholars took advantage of Washington’s cultural and entertainment offerings by attending a performance of “The Lion King” at the Kennedy Center, visiting Georgetown University and the U.S. Capitol, and attending a major league baseball game.

The research team hopes to present their findings at two conferences during the 2014-2015 academic year. They also plan to submit two peer-reviewed publications this upcoming academic year.

To learn more about this project, contact Darris Means at dmeans@uga.edu.

The Elon Academy Scholar-Researchers:

Josue Alonso-Dionicio, Cummings High School
Laci Breen, Southern Alamance High School
Dulce Cuevas, Northeast Guilford High School
Breanna Davis, River Mill Academy
Sylvia Ellington, River Mill Academy
Manuel Melgoza-Rodriguez, Cummings High School
Jose Ramirez, Southern Alamance High School
Kristina Torain, Graham High School
Kamara Troxler, Williams High School
Brittany Wilkins, River Mill Academy

Launched by Elon University in 2007, the Elon Academy is a college access and success program for academically-promising high school students with a financial need and/or no family history of college. It combines a month-long residential program over three successive summers with follow-up experiences during the academic years. Elon Academy staff work closely with advocates from all six public high schools, the River Mill Public Charter School, and Alamance-Burlington School System staff to identify, select, and support bright, highly motivated, local students who dream of a college education.

Support for students continues through their college graduation. To learn more about the Elon Academy, visit www.elon.edu/elonacademy.

- Information submitted by Darris Means '05, outgoing associate director of the Elon Academy


Eric Townsend,
7/23/2014 8:55 AM