MEMPHIS — Last month, two CBU professors traveled to Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, one of Christian Brothers University’s Lasallian sister schools, to teach first-generation college students from Lasallian and Jesuit high schools across the United States in the Countdown 2 College Summer Program. This was actually the second trip to Minnesota for Dr. Kelly James, assistant professor of Behavioral Sciences, and Dr. Jeffrey Gross, Chair and associate professor of Literature and Languages; they also taught last year when then-director Dr. Jane Anderson invited them to teach at the 2015 summer program.
According to the SMUMN website, the goal of Countdown 2 College is to “prepare low-income, first-generation students of color for success in college, and prepare college instructors to meet the learning styles and needs of students who are linguistically and culturally different from their own experiential and teaching background.” Over the past two summers, the program’s mission has instilled a unique development of Lasallian ideals that could be taken back to the CBU campus.
During the two-week program, Gross taught a fourth-year writing class—akin to an abbreviated English 111 course—that sought to explore personal narrative through reading and writing essays that take into consideration a broader community context. Similarly, James taught a critical reading and critical thinking course under the theme of “Teaching for Tolerance” course for fourth-year students that used Laudato si’, Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment, as the primary text in their exploration of ecology, science, and place. Both classes were intended to challenge the high school students and work on their skillsets in writing, critical thinking, and communicating.
What united all of the students at the camp was their enrollment in a Christian Brothers or Jesuit high school from around the country. While relatively new, the program aims to provide them with the academic preparation they need to actually thrive before they even set foot on a college campus. And while the two-week summer program is transformational for the students who attend it, the teaching experience and witness to the work ethic of the students can also be integral to the faculty who embark on it.
For Gross, the latter experience came one evening during a study hall session.
“What’s so interesting in watching them is they’re all invested in making sure everyone gets it done,” he said. “Their interest is to make sure that everyone in that class figures out the material and gets through it.”
Rather than each student completing their work at their own pace and then turning in for the night, the Countdown 2 College students stayed late to help others who were struggling with their assignments.
James says that it’s this kind of selfless approach that gave her a new paradigm with which to approach Lasallian education.
“That to me is the Lasallian part that I want to strengthen at CBU—have not just the office doors open, but build those relationships to build our talents to firm up their skillsets.” she says.
During the program, one student in particular reminded her of this need when she noticed him struggling to focus on his assignments and set aside distractions. Rather than move on without this student, James bought him a planner to help him keep his homework and projects organized. This approach moves beyond the students’ grades or results, to their individual needs as they grow into the kind of well-rounded people that a Lasallian education intends for them.
To learn more about the Countdown 2 College Initiative, visit http://www.smumn.edu/c2c/.