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Summer programs draw many potential students
July 27, 1998

Robert Wargo had never been to UConn until he took part in the Mentor Connection program two summers ago, before entering his junior year in high school.

Today, he is preparing to enter the University's freshman class. Wargo, from Stratford, says without the Mentor Connection, he probably would not have made a visit to the campus. He says the three-week program for talented teens sold him on the school.

"Before I even finished the mentor program, I knew UConn was my top choice," says Wargo, who plans to be a high school history teacher. "I met a lot of nice people, I liked the big campus and had a great learning experience."

Andy Greenstein, who participated in Mentor Connection last summer, is also coming to UConn in the fall. Greenstein worked with doctoral students doing biochemistry research. He says the program gave him direction. "I didn't know what I wanted to do until I did biochemistry research at UConn and really liked it," says Greenstein, who was valedictorian of East Lyme High School and will come to UConn as a Nutmeg Scholar.

Now in its third year, the Mentor Connection program offers between 50 and 60 gifted high school juniors and seniors an opportunity to spend five to six hours a day working on research and creative projects with faculty or graduate students as mentors. The participants live in dorms and may engage in recreational activities on campus.

The program is one of several dozen on campus that offer middle school and high school students a taste of campus life. Sports and science camps, leadership workshops, teen conferences and more abound during the summer. For the youngsters who participate, these programs are often their first contact with the University.

The University sees these initial contacts as an opportunity to encourage them to think of UConn when the time comes to apply to college. The effort is part of admission's expanding strategies and goals for increasing enrollment..

"We're beginning to capture the names of students who come to the University for summer programs," says M. Dolan Evanovich, associate provost for enrollment management. "We want to start recruiting students who are in the middle schools, as they start forming impressions of college and universities. The long-term goal is to create a central database of students who come here for camps and conferences - whether they're academic or athletic - so that we can start the recruitment process, and encourage them to choose the University of Connecticut as their first choice," Evanovich says.

One of the goals of Mentor Connection from the start has been to encourage talented students to apply to UConn. Jeanne Purcell, who heads the program, is doing a long-term study of the participants, including where they attend college. Purcell says that about 14 percent of the students in the program in the first two years have chosen UConn.

The University hopes to find out what clinched the decision for those students and build on that information to encourage others to apply.

"I want to find out what it was from their UConn experience that made them come here," says Purcell. Many of the students who take part in Mentor Connection are in a position to choose from a number of top schools, she adds. The data she has collected so far show that the receptiveness of the faculty and their openness to the students are reasons why Mentor Connection participants choose UConn.

Gary Epling, a professor of chemistry and head of department, who has been a mentor each year since the program started, isn't surprised. "The program is a real eye-opener for them," he says. "The students who are selected for the program are incredibly talented and extremely motivated, but they usually don't have the kind of contact with a research university program that allows them to understand the opportunities that are available," Epling says. And he notes that the program gives faculty members "a chance to early on have a contact with a student who has exactly the kinds of characteristics that we would want in students at UConn."

Many high school students involved in summer programs get to talk with UConn faculty, staff and students first hand about the University. For example, high school students in the Connecticut State Leadership Camp stay in a dorm with undergraduate students who act as camp counselors. "They can talk about their experiences," says Bill Faulkner, associate director for student development. "When they hear it from a peer, it has tremendous impact on them." Part of the program is a session on preparing for college, conducted by the admissions office.

Summer programs have the potential to affect more than just those who come to campus.

When students go back to their high schools and talk to their classmates about experiences they have enjoyed on campus, says Faulkner, that puts the University in a positive light and may encourage others to apply to UConn as their school of choice.

Sherry Fisher