University of Success Program Provides Chance to Realize Dreams

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Stephanie Pacheco, a soft-spoken eighth-grade graduate of South Scranton Intermediate School, thought she might want to be a veterinarian. Then, through The University of Scranton’s Univeristy of Success program, she watched as TCMC students “saved the life” of Sim Man, a lifelike robot in the throes of a heart attack. Then she KNEW she had to have a career in health sciences. The best thing about her revelation was that it was backed up by a program that will give her a solid plan and the skills to realize her dream.

As a student in the University of Success, for the next four years, as Stephanie advances through Scranton High School, she will also progress at the “university,” receiving SAT preparation, public speaking skills – even help with the dreaded FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form.

For children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the world of college prep is an alien land whose inhabitants speak a foreign language. FAFSA, SAT, ACT, GPA . . . what do they mean? Since few of their parents have ever traveled this ground, these children often flounder, uncertain of their path. Intellectual gifts alone can't steer a student onto the right road. Experienced guides are required.

The University of Success supplies the guides.

The University of Success is a 15-year-old program run by The University of Scranton's Leahy Community Health and Family Center. According to the Leahy Center's director, Andrea Mantione, the University of Success grew from the Jesuit ideal of the “magis” or “the more,” which refers to the philosophy of doing more, for Christ, and therefore for others. Support for the program is supplied by the Prudential Foundation, Met Life Foundation, Charles Frueauff Foundation and the McGowan Charitable Fund.

University of Success

 “The University of Success is about educating the socio-economically disadvantaged,” she said. “It's  about making kids who have the desire 'college-ready.'”

 The program annually enrolls 20 children who “have the desire” just after they have completed the  eighth grade. The program begins with a two-week summer “academy” and continues with workshops  on one Saturday a month until the enrollees are seniors in high school. The Saturday workshops cover  everything from study skills to SAT prep to writing the all-important personal statement essay for a  college application.

In describing how the program's mentors stay “on top of the things,” Univeristy of Success Program Director Margaret Loughney said, “They'll ask, 'Where's the essay? Where's the essay? And, if it's still not done, they'll take the student to the library and sit with them until it is.”

Parents are kept involved and even receive assistance with filling out FAFSA and the other arcane and convoluted forms necessary for college admission.

Students who wish to enter the program must be academically motivated and come from a background that is under-represented on college campuses. First generation college-bound students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds are also eligible.

University of Success groupThe application process includes an interview with Leahy Center staff, who are looking for desire and commitment. The program is a great gift, but it also demands much from the students, so fortitude is required. For example, the summer academy students go to Dorney Park for the day, but before they ride the coasters, they solve physics problems about the ride.

C.J. Leepier of Scranton said, “I always knew I had to work hard to go to college. But what I learned here is that I have to be on my game all day.” He knows that “on his game” means both high grades and involvement in extra curricular activities. Besides being determined to apply himself academically, C.J. said he plans to play safety or tailback on the high school football team.

Chante Mercurious of Long Pond, who has the poise and diction of a grown woman, agreed. “I had no idea how competitive and hard (it was to get into college),” she said. “I want to do it because I will be the first person in my family to get into college.” Her dream is to become a journalist, so she plans to join the debate club in high school and also to continue to dance.

Kenny deSouza's teachers at South Scranton Intermediate School encouraged him to enroll. He is a confident, outgoing boy. “I make new friends like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. And although he's greatly enjoyed making new friends at the University of Success, he's also learned that he's “going to have to work hard. It won't be easy.” He plans to take part in mock trial activities in high school and to get involved in football (as a wide receiver) and track.

As for Stephanie, she said before the University of Success, she hadn't realized how important it was for her to a “well rounded person.” “Now I am learning what steps I need to take for college.” She says she intends to get involved with sports when she enters high school in the fall and looks forward to continuing with the University of Success because she knows she will “learn things you won't necessarily hear in high school.” She is particularly looking forward to SAT preparation. 

University of SuccessIn addition to classroom projects, the academy students took excursions to the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC), Prudential and the Franklin Institute, to name a few. The students also enjoyed their first exposure to dormitory living, C.J. saying the experience taught “responsibility and respect.”

The trip to Prudential was a high point for Stephanie. “I had no idea how many people it could take to run one company,” she said. The day was made even more memorable by a surprise visit by Shaniqua Long, a University of Success graduate who is now employed in Prudential's HR department. Ms. Long, who holds a bachelor's degree from The University of Scranton, talked to her visitors about “the importance of taking hold of opportunities.”

Chante, with her characteristic eloquence and maturity, said her favorite part of the summer institute was the trip to PEEC. “I liked the hike,” she said. “Because it represents the University of Success. It was a challenge to reach our destination, we knew it was going to be hard, but we had each other and our mentors to get us there.”