Victoria Jennings of Springfield, Tennessee, called the recent MTSU Scholars Academy “an amazing” time as she and other students prepared to start the 2021-22 Middle Tennessee State University academic year.
A May Springfield High School graduate, Jennings, 17, who plans to study family and consumer science with a concentration in child development and family studies, found the one-week virtual and Week 2 in-person session “helped me come out of my shell and I met a lot of new people,” she said during a break in presentations in the Business and Aerospace Building.
Scholars Academy, an Office of Student Success endeavor along with the Student Transition and Academic Readiness Program, or STAR, is a freshman year experience opportunity designed to enhance student learning and success through academic, social and long-term support.
STAR is a program designed to jump-start a student’s college career with enhanced preparation for college-level general education courses; and leadership training, service learning and team-building exercises.
“It was extremely successful this year. The students enjoyed it,” said Brelinda Johnson, Scholars Academy manager in the Office of Student Success. Nearly 160 students combined participated this year.
“Our goals are to acclimate students academically and socially,” she added. “We found they walk away from STAR or Scholars Academy as friends. They create study groups. A lot sat together in Convocation. They feel less overwhelmed about the new experiences going on in the first week of classes. … It was great exposure for them early on.”
Johnson said one student told her she “was thankful she got to hear about all of this information. She was prepared. A lot of other students, who did not attend either program, still had lots of questions.”
Scholars Academy participant Rachel Hortert, 19, of Murfreesboro, wrote that it “has been one heck of a journey so far and we’ve only just started!”
Hortert, a psychology major who was homeschooled, thanked Johnson and her colleague Travis Strattion for “starting us off on the right track. … Scholars Academy greatly assisted me in knowing what to expect and how to cope with situations thrown at me. This has been an incredible opportunity. You have been understanding and supportive about (a personal situation). You have already made a positive impact on my life.”
Great lineup of speakers
A major component of the two early arrival programs is the STAR conference, which allows participants to hear from top administrators, faculty and staff on campus.
The lineup of speakers included Provost Mark Byrnes, Associate Vice Provost for Student Success Vincent Windrow and Rick Sluder, dean of University College and vice provost for Student Success.
Author, speaker, mental health therapist and life coach Jay Barnett provided the keynote on the conference’s opening night. The next day, he assisted the Office of Student Success to kick off the fall 2021 Black Male Lecture Series.
“The students loved him. Parents loved him, and he did a special session for Black males,” Johnson said.
A panel of 10 faculty addressed the freshmen in a Wednesday session about Discovery Majors, featuring religious studies, child developmental studies, data science, Africana Studies, Fermentation Science, nutrition and journalismand strategic media.
Peer mentors (upper-division MTSU students) led a final-day panel.
While students spend their day in a conference setting, the opportunity to socialize and meet others is provided throughout the week of afternoon events.
Johnson said the annual talent show “highlighted the groups’ amazing talents of singing, dancing, video production, drawing and more — once again providing fun and memorable moments.”
Variety of presenters
At the in-person sessions, students attended a variety of presentations, ranging from Campus Recreation and Health Services to Counseling Services, Education Abroad and more.
Daniel Green shared about Intercultural and Diversity Affairs. The Honors College’s Laura Clippard discussed student Fulbright and other award opportunities available to them. Many others presented on multiple days.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)