Emma Bloomberg Center summer programs empower FLI students for school success

First-generation and lower-income (FLI) students across the country spent the summer preparing for a successful school year with support from Princeton’s Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity.

The Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI), the Princeton University Preparatory Program (PUPP), and the Princeton Summer Journalism Program (PSJP) are separate programs that share similar missions: to empower and support first-generation, lower-income and underrepresented students. The pre-matriculation programs are among Princeton’s nation-leading initiatives in college access and opportunity under the umbrella of the Emma Bloomberg Center.

The center was established last April, bringing together and expanding existing University efforts to help students on their journeys to, through and beyond college. The Emma Bloomberg Center offers academic, mentorship and extracurricular programming for Princeton undergraduates on campus, and also encompasses University-sponsored college preparatory programs for high school students who may enroll at other colleges and universities.

“Princeton has a rich history of summer programs that support access and equity, dating to a 1959 summer program that encouraged Black engineers in their pursuit of the discipline,” said Khristina Gonzalez, the Bob Peck ’88 Director of the Emma Bloomberg Center and senior associate dean of the college. “Programs like PUPP, PSJP and FSI have developed and grown out of this tradition, thanks, in large part, to the enthusiasm and initiative of our “Fli” student community. We are thrilled that the Emma Bloomberg Center provides us with the opportunity to bring together and institutionalize these programs, so that we may remain responsive to the hopes and needs of our students.”

Below are highlights from the summer 2021 sessions of FSI, PUPP and PSJP.

Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI)

FSI is an immersive seven-week summer program that provides a group of incoming Princeton first-year students with an early opportunity to engage in intensive credit-bearing courses, participate in co-curricular activities and explore the University’s resources and support systems.

For the second summer in a row, FSI was reimagined as a robust virtual program due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Zooming in from across the world, the 161 incoming students were able to take classes and build community before moving onto campus for the fall semester.

All students attended the humanities class “Ways of Knowing,” and they could also choose among STEM and quantitative courses. Each week also included meet and greets with faculty and staff; study halls; workshops on time management, networking, mentorship and more; and discussions with young alumni on navigating Princeton’s academic, social and residential life.

During a colloquium with the Department of Classics, first-years asked professors how they got into their fields, what courses they recommended and what kind of careers Classics concentrators pursue after Princeton.

“Classics is a discipline that is very attentive to what the past can mean for us and what kind of responsibilities we have in the present for building a sustainable future,” said Dan-el Padilla Peralta, associate professor of Classics and a Princeton Class of 2006 graduate.

The first-years in FSI also made friends and built community online through the Discord app, streaming movie nights, crafting clubs, yoga classes and even a virtual running club.

Courtney Perales Reyes, coordinator and communications associate for University programs in access and opportunity, offered students advice on balancing academics and extracurriculars. “Self-care is especially important coming into Princeton where there will be more work and constraints on your time than in high school. Whatever I’m doing, I ask myself, ‘Am I learning something? Do I feel like I’m growing? Do I feel energized and happy?’ It’s important to ask yourself these questions to ensure that any co-curricular or club activity you engage in leaves you feeling fulfilled.”

Perales Reyes, a Class of 2017 graduate, added: “If you are able to find community in a student group, that is really impactful. That is part of the Princeton experience.”

Now that FSI 2021 has ended, the students can continue building community on campus through the Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP) for undergraduates in all four class years and other activities offered by the Emma Bloomberg Center.

Students pose in front of tiger sculpture

PUPP students from high schools in Mercer County, New Jersey, tour Princeton’s campus.

Princeton Summer Journalism Program (PSJP)

PSJP is an innovative journalism and college preparatory program. Approximately 40 high achieving, high school juniors from lower-income backgrounds are selected to participate each summer. When the summer ends, students receive college, internship and career support through a network of over 400 PSJP alumni.

This year marked PSJP’s 20th summer and second virtual session. Program Associate Tieisha Tift led the process of reimagining PSJP from a 10-day, in-person institute on Princeton’s campus into a five-week virtual program for students participating from their homes across the country.

Students explored current events and world affairs through workshops and lectures led by Princeton professors and professional journalists, including two Pulitzer Prize winners. Guest speakers included: Emmy-nominated supervising producer Brian Rokus of CNN, who is also a co-director of PSJP and a Class of 1999 graduate; New York Magazine senior writer E. Alex Jung; and NPR investigative correspondent Cheryl W. Thompson, who worked at The Washington Post for 22 years.

“PSJP can sound daunting at first, but it is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the field of journalism and to find a community of similar interested peers,” said Nahid Hassan of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. “I initially started off the program having only two areas that I liked to cover — politics and sports — but I found myself loving the numerous different fields we were exposed to, such as climate change and crime.”

Hassan added: “Beyond that, the program offers a lot of insight into college admissions, which can terrify parents and students alike, and helps provide a net of security knowing that they’ve helped students navigate the process for 20 years now.”

In a workshop on dispelling college myths, students were surprised to learn that Princeton — which has a generous no-loan financial aid program — and other private universities could be more affordable than state schools for low- and middle-income families.

“My point is to give yourself options and don’t limit yourself,” said Kevin Hudson, assistant director for college opportunity in Princeton’s Office of the Provost and a Class of 1997 graduate. “The out-of-pocket costs for most competitive schools are actually less than a two-year public university. Soak that in.”

When not attending classes, the students reported and wrote original content for their online newspaper, the Princeton Summer Journal. This year’s investigative report was a national survey of how critical race theory was, or was not, taught in public school districts.

“I spoke with my former superintendent about changes made to create a more inclusive curriculum,” said Roxana Martínez of San Bernardino, California. “Some students in other places noticed schools hadn’t changed their curriculum to incorporate critical race theory. We are not learning about our own cultures and our own histories in school.”

Martínez said she joined PSJP to become a better writer and learn more about important national issues. She hopes to study criminal psychology in college and eventually become an immigration lawyer.

“PSJP gives you a new perspective; it gives you hope; it gives you motivation to pursue everything you thought was unimaginable,” Martínez said. “I’ve had a dream to become a lawyer since I was 5 years old and PSJP has made that dream feel like a reality.”

During the July 30 closing ceremony, Executive Director Richard Just encouraged students to continue accessing PSJP’s many resources to help them pave the path to a successful future. Just is editor of The Washington Post Magazine, a Class of 2001 graduate and co-founder of PSJP.

“The summer phase of our program may be ending today, but the work of our job is just starting,” Just said. “We will help you with college applications; we will help you find internships and jobs in journalism. All of the talents and connections we have are now yours to use as well — all you have to do is ask. We have total confidence that you are all going to succeed. That doesn’t mean it will be easy or there won’t be obstacles. Each of you has the talent and drive to change the world whether through journalism or another profession.”

Princeton University Preparatory Program (PUPP)

Marking its 21st year, PUPP is a comprehensive, year-round academic and social enrichment program for underrepresented students from five high schools in Mercer County, New Jersey. The tuition-free program prepares students for admission and ongoing success within selective colleges and universities.

PUPP scholars complete three intensive six-and-a-half week summer institutes and take part in school-year programming, including weekly after-school academic enrichment sessions and a series of cultural excursions. PUPP works directly with the high school sophomores, juniors and seniors as they navigate the college admissions and financial aid process.

The annual summer curriculum covers writing, literature, personal development, math and critical thinking skills. For this summer’s final art project, students launched a website featuring photography, drawings and found objects that explored ideas of identity and belonging discussed in summer reading assignments such as “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

While PUPP has been virtual since last year, students were able to meet “in real life” for a few days this summer to tour Princeton’s campus and bond through team-building challenges.

“This is the first time we are all together in person and it feels really exhilarating,” said Arody Samayoa during a lunch outside on Frist Lawn in July. Samayoa is a junior at Trenton Central High School.

Sherley Lopez, a PUPP summer teaching assistant who attended the program when she was in high school, offered the group study tips from her first year at Middlebury College. “Prioritize your work. Some people will do the easy assignments first and put off the harder assignment until last. Focus on the hardest thing first.”

At an Aug. 6 closing event at the Fields Center, PUPP Director Jason Klugman gave the scholars a pep talk for the upcoming school year.

“The most important thing I can say to all of you is to communicate. Communicate with us. Communicate with your teachers. Communicate with your parents. Communicate with your peers in this room,” Klugman said. “If you see yourself struggling in your chemistry class, in European history or whatever it may be, we want to be able to help you. PUPP is here to support you through the year however you may need.”

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