Rising Scholars Program Adapts to Virtual Mentoring

Students who are part of the Rising Scholars Program at the Kent State regional campuses are adapting to the challenges of social distancing thanks to their mentors who have moved their weekly check-in sessions online.
David Dees
“During these difficult and unpredictable times, I have learned that what helps me get through the bad days are relationships…. family, friends, neighbors…those seem to be the only things I can count as everything else is so unpredictable. The Rising Scholars mentors are finding ways to be a stable and predictable part of the scholars’ lives. These relationships are helping both the mentors and the scholars have something consistent, that truly matters, in their daily life. This is something that makes this program work under normal conditions, but right now, it is more critical than ever before. We are so proud that Kent State continues to find ways to keep these students first, regardless of the shifting realities we all face.”

- David M. Dees, Ph.D., Interim Vice President for System Integration, Dean and Chief Administrative Officer

Kent State at Stark Rising Scholars Continue to 'Rise Up' Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Imagine being in high school and having no plan for your future, or being told that college is not an option for you because of finances. Imagine no one in your family had ever attended
Image caption: Rising Scholars Program Coordinator Lester Sanders meets with Rising Scholars student, Kaylee Allison, remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic
college and being discouraged at the thought. Then imagine hearing that Kent State University at Stark’s Rising Scholars Program could change your life.

Rising Scholars is designed to give first-generation and underrepresented students a pathway to achieve a college degree at no cost to participants. Our goal is for every student in our program to complete postsecondary education with the credentials necessary to succeed in his or her career.

Students who successfully complete the high school portion of the program will be eligible to apply for a full-tuition Rising Scholars Scholarship at Kent State Stark and change their lives forever.

The Rising Scholars program includes year-round enrichment workshops on a variety of subjects including STEM, personal leadership, academic motivation, college readiness, career exploration and civic engagement. The program also features the Summer Institute during which students have the opportunity to gain unique learning and service experiences.

A global pandemic was the last thing that Lester Sanders, Rising Scholars Program coordinator at Kent State Stark, was expecting in 2020. This program originated with Canton McKinley and has grown to include GlenOak, Canton South, Fairless, and Alliance this year.

“We are determined to keep the program going during this crisis and also want it to thrive because this is a vital ‘Real-Life Learning Opportunity’ to mentor students on how to navigate adversity in everyday life,” Sanders said. “From this pedagogical perspective, they will gain experience in overcoming adversities that are awaiting them in the future. Life is 10 percent about what happens to us and 90 percent about how we respond, and the Rising Scholars Program wants to model that in real-time.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic and period of social distancing, Sanders is making daily adjustments about how to best connect with the students utilizing remote communication technology, such as Google Meet and Zoom. The mandatory 2020 Summer Institute will be taught virtually.

Kaylee Allison is a member of the first graduating cohort of the Rising Scholars Program from Canton McKinley High School and has plans to become a nurse. “I know I can earn a college degree especially from the instruction and skills I gained from the Rising Scholars Program, my concern was paying for college. This program has taken that concern away, which will allow me to concentrate more on my goal of graduation,” said Allison. “I am grateful for this opportunity at Kent State Stark.”

The Rising Scholars Program at Kent State Stark was initially made possible through a generous donation from The Hoover Foundation. “If you truly want to make a difference in the life of a young person, the Rising Scholars Program is where it can happen,” said Beth Fuciu, associate director of advancement at Kent State Stark. “To offer these students a free college education is like offering them the world. The program is a true commitment to bettering Stark County through the education of our youth.

“There is uncertainty in the world today, but we know for certain that the Rising Scholars Program will rise above and continue to offer hope to promising young minds.”

Rising Scholars Program Continues in Virtual Mode at Columbiana County Campuses
Rural Scholars mentors keep in touch with remote meetings that “zoom” into their personal home offices.

Just like everyone seems to be doing these days, the Rising Scholars mentors are using unconventional methods to maintain contact with the scholars and to keep the students focused on meeting their goals.

Donny Larabee, Rising Scholars coordinator, reported that the mentors are using phone calls, texts, video conferences and social media to stay in touch with their students – and with each other.

“Though mentors and scholars had to adjust to online teaching, I witnessed them leaning on each other from the start. This goes beyond the typical mentor-to-scholar dynamics because scholars are leaning on other scholars and mentors are helping other mentors,” he reported. “Because of the strong relationship formed between everyone in this program, there was virtually no interruption in communication among us.”

So far, mentors are reporting very promising response rates from scholars. This is especially noteworthy, given that these students also had to adjust to being “in class” remotely while away from their home schools.

For the senior scholars, Larabee noted his disappointment in being unable to hold a formal ceremony to celebrate their successful completion of the program. Instead, the mentors and other staff members are working to produce a video to recognize the seniors that will be shared with them and posted on the Rising Scholars Facebook page. The video will feature pictures, quotes and music personally selected by the seniors.

The summer workshops that are typically held on campus each year are also being planned as remote events. One workshop will allow scholars to use NASA’s website and its virtual tour. The scholars will interact with NASA workshop presenters and its resources from their own homes.

Before the campus closed in response to the COVID-19 quarantine, Larabee began recruiting new mentors and saw an increase in applications. Some of the applicants were interviewed before the closure, so there will be mentors hired to help with administrative operations. Once the campus reopens, more applications will be reviewed and mentors added.

Larabee is also working with school guidance counselors to collect new sixth grade recommendations for the next school year.

“We aren’t slowing down,” he said. “If anything, we are working harder at staying connected and focused on our scholars. It’s working!”

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POSTED: Thursday, April 30, 2020 - 11:41am
UPDATED: Tuesday, May 5, 2020 - 3:34pm