Connected Scholars exceeded BBBSEMO’s hopes and dreams.
On the one hand, the course did exactly what they wanted. With the Connected Scholars Program, BBBSEMO staff were able to talk students through thinking about their goals and who in their networks would be able to help them reach those goals. Students were also encouraged to expand their support networks and trained on how to reach out to faculty, classmates, campus resources, and academic advisors. They were able make the transition to community college easier by helping Littles navigate the novel and confusing system found in most colleges. Sometimes, the BBBSEMO staff even walked students to academic offices like the financial aid and bursar’s offices, as part of the scaffolding process, to help them develop self-advocacy skills. In the Connected Scholars meetings, Littles really enjoyed the group discussions, talking about their own transition to college, and hearing the experience of students who were just a year or two ahead of them in college.
In addition to providing the intended support and services, Connected Scholars also had wonderful unexpected benefits.
First, the program created the opportunity for staff to really get to know the former Littles on a personal level. The instructors of Connected Scholars were able to discuss their students’ lives, challenges, academic and career goals, and needs with them. Students would often stay after class, not only to discuss the content of the session, but also their own lives and what they were trying to figure out. Second, until the class, the group members didn’t know the other former Littles who were on campus.
As the students got to know one another, they organically developed their own support system. The former Littles admitted that they never would have done this work on their own. Kate Dopuch, Chief Program Officer, and Tashanna Rucker, Senior Director of Big Futures, were particularly impressed by the culminating networking event held towards the end of the Connected Scholars program. The networking event is built into the curriculum to give participants an opportunity to try out their new networking and relationship-building skills with potential mentors. For example, students who are interested in nursing programs might network with current nursing students or faculty in the nursing department. A highlight of BBBSEMO’s first networking event was that one student received a job offer after speaking with the owner of a local business.
Like any new program, BBBSEMO ran into some unanticipated barriers. In particular, they discovered that most of the students worked and had additional family obligations which caused scheduling problems, though they eventually found a time that worked for most students.
The real benefit to staff in teaching the Connected Scholars program was how the program provided them with new insights into how to best support former Littles and build stronger relationships with them – and that one-to-one relationship is a critical element to BBBSEMO’s philosophy.