Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

'Someone Just like Me': When Academic Engagement Trumps Race, Class, and Gender

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

'Someone Just like Me': When Academic Engagement Trumps Race, Class, and Gender

Article excerpt

In the process of working with students on outreach recruiting for an academic development program, the authors learned from them an important lesson about sameness and difference and about the power of the academic adventure for bringing people together.

RECRUITING Hispanic students, African American students, students from economically disadvantaged homes, and students from economically disadvantaged communities into programs for academic talent development is not easy.1 If it were easy, these students would not remain "underrepresented." And some educators have gone so far as to suggest a 30% to 70% "underrepresentation of culturally different students in programs for the gifted in the United States."2 While we are not entirely comfortable with such numbers, we are concerned about the imbalance in access to talent development programs for students from certain ethnic and economic groups.

The Academic Talent Development Program (ATDP), an intensive K-12 summer program offered by the University of California, Berkeley, has a long history of concern for diversity in its participants (including students, faculty, and staff).3 And ATDP has a long history of reasonable success in ensuring diversity through an application process that is unusual for talent development programs, a variety of outreach efforts, and the good fortune of a locale - the San Francisco Bay Area - that has a diverse population. But the program is not complacent about the success of its past efforts.

In an attempt to continue to recruit an ethnically and economically diverse group of students and to recruit such students in ever-larger numbers, the director decided to turn to the Hispanic, African American, and economically disadvantaged students who were already a part of the program. It had become clear that these were exactly the kind of students that should be recruited for the program. It had also become clear that there were no better ambassadors for the program than these students, and so the role of ATDP Ambassador was created. From the start, the idea was that ATDP Ambassadors might be in the best position to recruit from their own ethnic and economic communities, communities that too often are excluded from programs like ATDP. We also hoped to learn something about the typically underrepresented students who have been served by the program and about the process of recruiting more students "just like them."

In the process of working with our students on outreach recruiting, we learned from them an important lesson about sameness and difference and about the power of the academic adventure for bringing people together. We learned how academic engagement can trump race, class, and gender in the hearts and minds of students. It is this story that we wish to share here.

Student Ambassadors

The ATDP Ambassadors were students in the program's secondary division who had entered through existing outreach efforts, who had completed at least two years in the program, and who agreed to assume significant recruiting responsibilities in their own schools. Twenty-two students, each from a different middle school or high school, were appointed as Ambassadors. They were to be paid a stipend for the successful completion of their duties, which included: 1) meeting with all counselors at their schools to talk about the program, why they recommended it, and for whom they would recommend it; 2) meeting with individual students or small groups of students from their schools at least three times during the first semester of the school year (in time for students to begin program applications); 3) making applications available and monitoring progress in recruiting students from their schools; and 4) being available to answer questions about the program, about the application process, and about how to present oneself in the application.

ATDP held several special luncheons for the newly appointed Ambassadors. …

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