CLEMSON — After more than a decade on campus, Clemson’s Emerging Scholars program continues to make higher education a reality for students who might not have seen college in their future.

The program, started in 2002, helps underserved students from three Lowcountry counties learn more about the basics of applying to college and develop their skills in reading, writing and math through summer experiences and academic year activities.

Supported by Clemson’s Office of Access and Equity, the Emerging Scholars program seeks to increase the number of college graduates that come from economically disadvantaged areas and families with no previous college graduates. With a mission to enhance South Carolina’s economic prosperity, it specifically targets students from public high schools in Allendale, Bamberg and Hampton counties.

“A child’s opportunities should not be determined by where they’re born,” said program director Amber Lange. “Students from this area have less of a chance of graduating from high school and even less of a chance of going to college. What we’re trying to do is get these kids, bring them out of the area, show them what college is like and make them understand that college is the key to breaking that cycle.”

Students enter the three-year program as rising high school sophomores and continue until they graduate and enter college. During the summer, they attend residential experience programs on Clemson’s campus that consist of team-building, academic evaluations, college access information, collaborative learning experiences and daily classes taught by Clemson faculty. Students also attend college access workshops, correspond with Emerging Scholars staff and visit different college campuses throughout the school year.

The Emerging Scholars program helps students learn what it takes to go to college and how to get there, said Robert Horton, a professor in the Eugene T. Moore School of Education who has been a part of the program since its inception.

“The program gives students from the Lowcountry an opportunity to familiarize themselves with a college campus, demystifying the college environment while providing students with some academic, social and physical experiences that will help them grow and recognize the power of education,” Horton added.

The program has taken great strides in helping students. About 65 percent of the students who enter it continue and graduate from the program. According to Lange, the high school graduation rate is 100 percent for every student, whether they graduate from the program or not. Even students who do not complete the program for work or athletic commitment reasons still continue on to finish high school. None of these students drop out of high school despite the 30 to 40 percent dropout rates at schools in their areas.

“Over the three years that students are here, we see them become more confident in their ability to succeed and more sure of their desire to further their education,” Horton said. “Approximately 90 percent of the scholars who complete the program attend some form of higher education. Given the extraordinarily high dropout rates of the high schools from which the scholars come, this is truly remarkable.”

One of the Emerging Scholars alumna who illustrate the program’s success is Jurée Capers, who recently graduated with a Ph.D. in political science from Texas A&M University.

“I owe a great deal of my academic success to the Emerging Scholars program,” she said. “The program gave me a first-class glimpse into the rigor of a college workload and the necessity of organization and time management, and the peer advisers taught me the priceless value of authentic mentorship; something that I seek and provide to undergraduates and graduate students around me.”

Clemson is involved in the Emerging Scholars program to help disadvantaged South Carolina students make it to college, wherever that may be. Even though students attend summer sessions on the Clemson campus, the program is not a recruiting mechanism and the goal of college attendance is not limited to Clemson, Lange said. Students are encouraged to apply and attend any college, with an emphasis on schools in South Carolina.

Horton believes that Clemson’s role in the program helps give back to the state by changing lives and providing opportunities for underserved areas in South Carolina.

“If we are serious about our mission as a land-grant institution, and if we are committed to providing opportunities for the youth of South Carolina, then it is critical that we participate, and lead, programs such as this,” Horton said. “It is a way not only to give back, but to improve ourselves. By connecting with students and families from the Lowcountry, Clemson reaches out and invests in the future of all of us.”

In addition to its assistance from Clemson, Emerging Scholars is supported by other outside sponsors who recognize the power of the program to change lives. Wells Fargo has contributed over $350,000 to the program and Casio America has helped by donating graphing calculators to participants. 

— Tierney Gallagher

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