Elon Academy students publish college access research

Written by 13 scholars, Speaking Out: Underrepresented Students Challenging the Inequities of College Access, is filled with personal voices.

Who better to understand the challenges faced by low-income, first generation students dreaming of a college education than the students themselves? This fall, students’ stories and the social issues surrounding them were revealed in Speaking Out: Underrepresented Students Challenging the Inequities of College Access.

Published in October, the book was researched and written by local high school students participating in the Elon Academy, Elon’s college access and success program for underrepresented youth. Filled with authentic voices and full-color personal photographs, the book depicts the challenges and hopes facing teens in Alamance County and nationwide.

Thirteen students worked for a year – on weekends, holidays, and after school – to engage in a youth participatory action research project that investigated the barriers to, and opportunities for, a college future in their community. Full partners in the research process, they read professional literature on college access, trained in qualitative research methodology, conducted interviews and focus groups, and collected survey data to document the challenges faced by low-income, first-generation college students.

In addition, they engaged in photovoice, an anthropological method that uses photos to “speak” about participant lives, to visually document their experiences.

The project was conceived and led by Mary Alice Scott, Elon Academy’s research associate. Assistant Professor Kim Pyne, who serves as the Elon Academy assistant director of academic programs, and Elon University students Molly O’Brien, Andrew Stevenson, and Muhammad Musah completed the project team, with O’Brien serving as the year-long research assistant.

Speaking Out is the students’ personal and scholarly call to awareness and action in their local community – one which should resonate with all communities who hope to see inequities in higher education addressed thoughtfully and changed for the better.

In addition to publishing their book, the team has shared its research in professional venues. Five student-researchers, along with Elon Academy staff, presented preliminary analysis of the work in April 2011 at a poster session at the Society for Applied Anthropology in Seattle, Wash. Two student-researchers presented their work at the Association for the Study of Higher Education conference in Charlotte, N.C., in November 2011.

Copies of Speaking Out are available at www.createspace.com/3706593 and www.Amazon.com. For more information, contact the Elon Academy office at elonacademy@elon.edu, 336-278-6109, or Campus Box 2108.

The authors:

Melissa Chacon, Western Alamance High School junior
Brian Delgado, Graham High School graduate, Elon University freshman
Kehyonah Graves, Graham High School junior
Joshua Hilgartner, Eastern Alamance High School senior
Mariam Lopez-Rosales, Cummings High School junior
Tiffany Lundy, Western Alamance High School junior
Vidal Morales-Santos, Graham High School junior
Karina Navarro, Cummings High School junior
Georgia Ngaia, Williams High School graduate, Victoria University of Wellington freshman
Ginika Nwoko, Williams High School junior
Crystal Owens, Eastern Alamance High School junior
Emani Richmond, Eastern Alamance High School senior
Elizabeth Tish, Graham High School senior

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 high schools, River Mill Public Charter School, as well as Alamance-Burlington School System staff to identify, select, and support these bright, highly motivated, local students who dream of a college education. Support for students continues through their college graduation.

For more information about the Academy, visit www.elon.edu/elonacademy.

– Written by Professor Deborah Long and Assistant Professor Kim Pyne