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The Dyson Foundation awards Vassar College $600,000 grant to establish the program Exploring College, designed to help prepare Poughkeepsie High School students for college success

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY -- The Dyson Foundation of Millbrook, NY, has awarded Vassar College $600,000 to fund the Exploring College Program, a three-year pilot project to better prepare Poughkeepsie High School students with combined high academic achievement and low income backgrounds for admission and success in college. The program is designed to improve college readiness and aspirations for students from underrepresented backgrounds, to increase the number of these students who attend college, and to expand the collaboration between Vassar College and the City of Poughkeepsie schools.

Beginning in ninth grade, each Poughkeepsie High School (PHS) student chosen for the program will have two mentors: a Vassar student, as well as a faculty member or administrator, who will meet with them at least once a month for group or individual activities that are designed to provide enrichment and motivation. These mentorships will create connections and continuity over the four years of the program as well as guidance for the students and their families at critical points in the college preparation process.

The other central feature of Exploring College will be a two-week residential experience at Vassar scheduled the summer between the students’ sophomore and junior years. This summer intensive will be an important point in helping to prepare students and their parents for college, and will be modeled after Vassar’s award-winning Exploring Transfer program—which for 25 years has served a similar role for community college students. The Exploring College students will enroll in two courses, team-taught by Vassar and PHS faculty. The students will live in residence halls with counselors who will assist with course work, writing, and other academic and social issues.

“The Dyson Foundation was very impressed with the Exploring College Program’s potential to bridge the financial gap that often blocks bright urban students from low-income households from attending a nationally acclaimed college such as Vassar,” said Michell Speight, director of programs for the Dyson Foundation. “This demonstrates Vassar’s commitment to reach out to the community and provide support and expertise where it’s most needed.”

Christopher Roellke, dean of the college and professor of education at Vassar, was instrumental in designing the Exploring College program. With his passion for engaging Vassar students in area schools, Dean Roellke explained that, “Through this grant from the Dyson Foundation we are able to streamline our services, and the future looks very, very bright in terms of engaging our students in the local schools and educating our [Poughkeepsie] community about the benefits of higher education.” He continued, “As a faculty member in education, I can only go so far theoretically in terms of preparing people to teach. It is crystal clear to me that the way to make this curriculum come alive is to engage our students in local area schools. If they want to become a teacher let’s try it out, with close integration into the curriculum.”

About Exploring College and the Dyson Foundation Grant

Beginning with 20 PHS students from the class of 2012, each Exploring College participant will be assigned two Vassar mentors, one a faculty member or administrator and the second a Vassar student. From ninth through twelfth grade, each PHS student will meet with their mentors at least once each month for group or individual activities that are designed to provide enrichment and motivation. These activities might include attending a concert or theatrical performance, an athletic or academic event at Vassar, or a meal or other one-on-one activity. In addition the students will participate in the summer intensive program at Vassar between their sophomore and junior year.

Some of the Poughkeepsie High School students who are selected for Exploring College may also have participated in other Vassar education programs that engage students from the Poughkeepsie schools. These include: Vassar After School Tutoring (VAST), the highly successful weeklong program at Poughkeepsie Middle School; Sistah Power, a mentoring program that brings together pre-teens from the Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson troupe with female Vassar students; Let’s Get Ready, which at Poughkeepsie High zeroes in on college and SAT preparation, as well as college awareness work; and the Vassar Science Scholars Program, an annual program in which the college's natural sciences departments collaborate with PHS to bring 18 students to campus for eight workshops with Vassar faculty.

The Vassar students who will serve as mentors for Exploring College will include many who have already participated in Vassar's various outreach programs.

Exploring College is built upon the Vassar College Urban Education Initiative (VCUEI), a program of the Education Department that Dean Roellke established in 2003. Roellke stated that through Exploring College and the work and success of VCUEI, “We’re really refocusing our efforts, to not only do great things in the New York City schools, but right here in our backyard. This is profoundly exciting and our students are just as eager for these opportunities as are our faculty.”

The Dyson Foundation grant will also help Vassar establish an office with a coordinator to oversee the education outreach programs of the college. To be located in Vassar's newly renovated historic observatory, now called the Judith Loeb Chiara Center at the Maria Mitchell Observatory, “The office promises to be a terrific resource for both faculty and students who are interested in working in schools,” Roellke noted. “And it is only made possible through support from the Dyson Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, and Vassar alums.”

Roellke further explained that, “Last year we established a loan forgiveness program for Poughkeepsie High School students to attend Vassar. The Poughkeepsie High School Scholarship Program eliminates student loans from financial aid packages awarded to PHS students who are accepted to Vassar and replaces them with Vassar scholarship funding. Through all of these efforts we are doing our part to make sure that a Vassar education is quite plausible for more of these students from our immediate community.”

The Dyson Foundation is a private, family-directed grantmaking foundation established in 1957 and headquartered in Millbrook (Dutchess County), NY. Robert R. Dyson is the Foundation’s president.

About the Poughkeepsie High School Scholarship Program

The Poughkeepsie High School Scholarship Program, which began in fall 2008 with the Vassar class of 2012, eliminates student loans from financial aid packages awarded to Poughkeepsie High School students accepted to Vassar, and replaces those loans with Vassar scholarship funding. The program is for students admitted to Vassar who are graduates of Poughkeepsie High School and have spent at least the final two years of their high school careers at the school.

About Other Vassar Educational Outreach Programs

Exploring Transfer

For twenty-five years the Exploring Transfer (ET) program at Vassar College has successfully introduced community college students to the possibilities of transfer to a wide range of four-year colleges and universities. The program is designed to provide an introduction to the intensive study of the liberal arts to community college students who are pursuing associates degrees or certificates in vocational, liberal arts or science programs. ET students are drawn from populations underrepresented in higher education, and many are the first generation in their family to attend college. Among the hundreds of students who participated in ET, most have gone on to complete bachelor's degrees at private and public colleges and universities.

Vassar After School Tutoring Program

Vassar After School Tutoring (VAST) offers weeklong subject tutoring, academic and life skill- building, and mentoring, to 40 seventh and eighth grade students at Poughkeepsie Middle School.

Vassar Science Scholars Program

The college's natural sciences departments collaborate with Poughkeepsie High School on an annual program to bring 18 high school science students to campus for eight workshops with Vassar faculty. The students also gain access to the Vassar libraries, as well as workshops on college admissions and financial aid.

Sistah Power!

The Sistah Power! Program is a collaboration between the Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson troupe, Vassar's Women’s Studies Department, and the college's ALANA Center (African American/Black, Latino, Asian American and Native American)/Campus Life Office. The program uses African drumming and educational activities to foster sisterhood and empowerment between pre-teen girls and female Vassar students.

Exploring Science at Vassar Farm

Vassar students work with faculty to design and implement lessons for local Poughkeepsie elementary students at the Collins Field Station on the Vassar Farm property. Children from second and third grade classrooms are invited to spend a morning at the Farm in exploration and discovery. Through nature walks, performing a simple experiment, and observing live animals, the children are actively engaged in science.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Science Education Internship Program

Students of the sciences get paired with a local science teacher at the elementary, middle or high school level, to gain teaching experience and to provide resources and assistance to the Poughkeepsie public schools’ science programs.

Let’s Get Ready

Let’s Get Ready (LGR) is America's largest network of student-run college access programs. Vassar’s chapter, first implemented in 2007-08, works with students at Poughkeepsie High School. Under the guidance of a New York City-based LGR coordinator and a Vassar faculty advisor, Vassar students instruct Poughkeepsie High students in SAT test preparation and navigating the college admissions and financial aid process.

College Awareness Partnership Scholars Online Mentoring Program

College Awareness Partnership Scholars (CAPS) is a Vassar partnership with the Collegiate Institute of Math and Science (CIMS) in the Bronx, and is a structured curriculum Vassar students follow online with high school freshmen to help them and their families start thinking about the college process.

About the Department of Education at Vassar

The teacher preparation programs in the Department of Education at Vassar College reflect the philosophy that a broad liberal arts education is the best foundation for teaching either at the elementary or secondary level or in public or private school. The student at Vassar who is preparing to teach works within a strong interdisciplinary framework of professional methods and a balanced course of study in a select field of concentration leading to a Bachelor of Arts. The department offers initial New York State certification in childhood and adolescent education. This certification is reciprocal in many other states.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted Monday, April 6, 2009