University College program offers underrepresented minority students aid in transition to college

Divided into groups of six, about 40 recent high school graduates gathered in a Nicholson Hall classroom on a steamy July afternoon to show what they knew about LSU.

Amid laughter and discussion about who knew the right answers, representatives from each group stood at the front of the room and feverishly wrote answers to questions about both the rich lore of LSU, as well as what services the university offers to its students.

While the questions, posed by representatives of LSU’s First Year Experience program, asked for the university’s original colors (blue and white) and location (Pineville, La.), as well as a former use for Tiger Stadium (a residence hall), others asked to list ways students could find jobs while at LSU and which offices could provide health and academic assistance for students.

These recent high school graduates were learning about the place they’ve chosen to call home for the next stage of their academic careers, thanks to LSU University College’s Summer Scholars program.

Administered by University College’s Center for Freshman Year, Summer Scholars is an eight-week summer bridge program that prepares selected high-achieving, under-represented minority students to make a successful transition from high school to the university. This experience offers students the opportunity during the summer semester prior to their college freshman year to become adjusted to the academic, personal, and social challenges that may encounter at LSU.

“It gives these students a chance to make that change from high school into the college world before the masses descend onto campus in the fall,” said Annette L. Yancy, a counselor with University College’s Center for Advising and Counseling who also coordinates the Summer Scholars program.

This year, Summer Scholars celebrates its 22nd anniversary and class, and its collective impact on LSU’s campus, transforming the lives of more than 900 scholars and creating a community of African-American scholars like no other. With a 55 percent four-year graduation rate versus 37 percent and 27.9 percent of all other LSU freshmen and African-American students, respectively, Summer Scholars students tremendously surpass LSU’s Flagship 2020 Agenda diversity goals.

“Scholars receive an experience that helps prepare them for their upcoming college careers,” said Natalie Derouen, a 2009 Summer Scholar. “They build friendships that will last a lifetime, and they became part of a ‘family’ that has been established for more than 20 excellent years.”

The Summer Scholars program was founded in 1991, after a committee of LSU administrators wrote a proposal to fund the attendance of 30 minority students to the university. These students had to meet the LSU admission requirements and were in pursuit of a baccalaureate degree from LSU.

In the spring of each year, the program conducts its identification and recruitment programs at high schools. Applicants are screened and selected by an LSU committee of administrators, faculty and former Summer Scholars. Students selected to participate in the Summer Scholars Program must be a member of an under-represented minority group, must already be admitted to LSU, must be available to attend the program for the entire eight-week summer session and must plan to continue enrollment and graduate from the university. The number of students admitted varies, depending on the cost of tuition and room and board, as well as the level of private funds. The program was initially funded for 30 students, and over the years has seen cohorts as large as 55 students.

A 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics found that 39 percent of African-American students and 50 percent of Hispanic first-time, full-time college students who enrolled in 2004 attained a bachelor’s degree in six years. Since its inception, 69 percent of Summer Scholars participants have obtained a bachelor’s degree in six years.

Summer Scholars offers financial assistance to students that take part, in an effort to ensure that Louisiana’s most talented, under-represented students have access to the state’s flagship university. This includes a summer-only scholarship that covers tuition, on-campus housing and a meal plan.

“Since these students are high achieving, but come from underserved communities, they may necessarily not have the means to attend a summer program like this,” Yancy said. “We want them to know that their situation may not be ideal, but it doesn’t have to hinder their goals.”
Getting a head start
Students selected for the Summer Scholars program are offered opportunities to adjust to the demands of the university in the classroom setting. This includes enrolling in at least six hours of academic coursework and attending study and discussion groups with supplemental instructors and tutors. Also, through a weekly lecture series, Summer Scholars are also introduced to numerous aspects of university life.

“These lectures are very informative because they include a good mixture of academic departments as well as the many auxiliary offices and services we have at LSU,” she said. “They give the students a chance to hear from representatives from academic units they may be interested in. Furthermore, the participants learn about the many additional services the university offers to students, especially to those just beginning their time as LSU Tigers.”

Summer Scholars students also meet with academic counselors that assist with advising, course scheduling and even career goal development.

“In addition to help with creating their class schedules and choosing classes that are the best fit for them, the students can learn about proper etiquette in the workplace, how to build a résumé and how to go above and beyond the task presented to them,” Yancy said. “Making that first impression is key. If they come away with a good first impression, opportunities will present themselves as the semester rolls on, and the students will have those same people who can write letters of recommendation for them.”

Outside of the academic realm, the program’s social aspects include family meetings, where current Summer Scholars meet with their coordinator and peer mentors to share successes, problems and other issues affecting the students. In praise of one another, students inform the group of their latest accomplishments, exemplary leadership experiences and good job performance ratings.

“The most interesting part of Summer Scholars, to me, were the Real Talk sessions, because this is a chance for us to really get to know one another as we get to elaborate on topics and express ourselves,” said Alex James, a member of the 2013 Summer Scholars class.

Summer Scholars also partake in trips – which Yancy refers to as Summer Enrichment Activities, or SEAs – that highlight the cultural aspects of not only the LSU community, but the variety of experiences in south Louisiana. This summer, trips included visits to the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum in Hammond, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, in Livingston. In past years, Summer Scholars have toured the Stennis Space Museum in Stennis Center, Miss., and the Brooks Museum of Art and the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., among others.

“It’s important for the students to get out of their circle of influence to see that there is a world outside of their hometown or even outside of their university,” Yancy said. “These trips serve as a bonding experience as well as a way to let them see some of the great things we have here in Louisiana. Some of them have never been to these places, and may not have had the chance to do so if not for this program.”          

“Once a Scholar, always a Scholar”

One aspect of Summer Scholars that Yancy is particularly proud of is that after completing the program, many students return to serve as peer mentors, which helps the program to establish a culture of excellence based on grades, decorum and leadership.

“In Summer Scholars, we have a saying – ‘once a Scholar, always a Scholar,’” Yancy said. “Students develop friendships here that can last for the rest of their lives, and many of them come back to help out with the next group. Some just like to stop by and talk to let us know how they’re doing. For some, this is their first real social group in college, and that stays with them. I always tell our students, ‘We’re here for you,’ and we mean it.”

“Summer Scholars could not have been a better blessing for me to have received,” said Dashera Gros, a 2012 Summer Scholar. “I was able to capture information, make friends and acquire new skills that I could never have imagined gaining before enrolling.”

Yancy said her hope is that students leave the Summer Scholars program with a sense of community and a well-rounded understanding of university life heading into their first year which, in turn, gives them a better chance of achieving their goals.

“I have seen high school valedictorians who have come into my office in tears after finding themselves on academic probation in their first year of college,” she said. “The way you learn in high school differs from how you learn in college. In high school, a lot of the education is by repetition. I want them to know that in college, you have to apply yourself to be successful. You also have to develop time management and organizational skills, while balancing it all with socialization. It can be a difficult process, but we’re here to help them get off on the right foot.”

To learn more about LSU University College’s Summer Scholars program, including how to enroll for future sessions, call (225) 578-7465, email or or visit