College Explorers: Helping Underrepresented Students Navigate the College Landscape | New Visions for Public Schools

College Explorers: Helping Underrepresented Students Navigate the College Landscape

New Visions is committed to expanding college and career-readiness support for students at our district, charter and transfer high schools. In partnership with SUNY Herkimer College, one of the most successful two year residential colleges in the State University of New York system, New Visions organizes an annual week-long summer pre-college trip to help students who, are traditionally underserved, to become college-bound. 

During the week-long College Explorers program, students receive a tour of Herkimer, discuss college life with current students, attend Admissions and Financial Aid presentations, and navigate a series of college courses. To date, over 213 aspiring college students in the New Visions network have participated in the College Explorers program and there are 50 former New Visions students currently enrolled at Herkimer.

Below you will find a Q&A with Herkimer staff members Rebecca Kohler, Director of Admissions, and Julie DelMedico, Sociology Professor and Academic Coach, who discuss this unique partnership and the opportunity it provides for students, many of whom never thought college was an option.

Q: Tell me about Herkimer College and the partnership with New Visions?

Julie: Herkimer is a rural, upstate community college. It has about 3,500 full-time students. We have a wide-range of programs and majors.  In terms of non-athletic scholarship community colleges, we have been named the number one athletic program in the nation the last two school years in a row. Our retention rates are in the top 100 of community colleges and we’re tied for the number one community college overall in New York State in terms of retention and success. We also offer a number of free services to students to ensure that they have all the resources they need to succeed.

The partnership with New Visions is great. We run a week-long summer College Explorers camp that offers students the opportunity to get to know college life. Students attend classes, participate in different team building activities, and meet a variety of NYC students who did not go to their school. The program mimics what they’re going to find in college. It’s just the opportunity to get away, experience something new and see what the next potential steps are in their academic career.

Q: Why is the College Explorers Program so critical in exposing underrepresented students to campus life?

College Explorers' participants help host Herkimer's newscast.

Rebecca: The students that we feel are under-represented, we are actively recruiting. As Director of Admissions, I have dedicated myself to being in New York City because this is where a large portion of students who may not know what options exist outside of the city.

In terms of exposure, it’s great for students to see that other opportunities are available. Herkimer in general is a great fit for a lot of students because it’s a small community college. The GPA requirement here isn’t so stifling, so for many students it’s a second chance if they didn’t prepare themselves well in high school. The College Explorers program is really terrific because it allows that opportunity to see what else is out there for students.

Julie: The program promotes understanding. One of the things that any student encounters is the fear of the unknown, which is a reason why so many students stay close to the city. Many are first generation and they’ve never been outside of New York City. Coming up to Herkimer for a week allows them a chance to see actually what it’s like and interact with staff and students.

Q: In terms of feedback from College Explorers from students or faculty, what have you heard?

Rebecca: From the surveys from the first College Explorers summer program, the faculty were very impressed with the the caliber of students that came from New Visions. They were not only impressed by the knowledge of the students but also the earnestness and hunger for knowledge. Essentially we’re talking about a few days of mock classes. Professors assigned homework, which all of the students completed. And from the students side, I have heard feedback that the experience was life changing. The students learned about majors they had never heard of and are now considering studying. There are certainly a number of majors that students don’t know until they explore and that’s the whole point of the program.

Q: What advice do you have for juniors and seniors starting out the application process?

Julie: The possibilities are endless. Go for it. There’s no such thing as, “I can’t do that.” At Herkimer, we pride ourselves on giving everyone a fair shot and opportunity.

Rebecca: A student needs to really understand their own personalities, their strengths and weaknesses, and what they like. Because ultimately if they find the right school that matches their personality, and they find the right major that involves everything that they like, they will be much more happy and more successful. Know yourself.

College Explorers' participants show off their Herkimer pride.