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Urban middle school students to taste university, corporate world (Released: 4/2/96)

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Students from three Hartford-area middle schools are getting a taste of what the future could hold for them.

Eighth graders from East Hartford Middle School, Fox Middle School in Hartford, and South Middle School, also in Hartford, are taking part in a new program to introduce inner-city youngsters to opportunities in higher education and the corporate world. The program is sponsored by the University of Connecticut and Fleet Bank.

Although UConn has offered outreach programs to middle schools for several years to encourage students to stay in school and prepare for college, this is the first time the University has worked with a corporation on these efforts, says Ann Huckenbeck, assistant vice president for enrollment management. "We're extremely excited about corporate cooperation and sponsorship," she says. "Tying in the career piece is wonderful. It lets students know there is an end to all this preparation."

"This program creates that critical, real-world link between academic opportunities and career choices," says John Milligan, executive vice president for consumer banking at Fleet Bank. "Fleet Bank is proud to be a partner with UConn in this important undertaking."

"We want to give kids a chance to see college who may not otherwise," says James Abromaitis, vice president of Fleet Bank. "We want to give them something to shoot for, not necessarily a career in banking but what's beyond college life, to give them a flavor of the progression." Abromaitis is a graduate of UConn and a member of the University's Board of Trustees.

Although most college admissions efforts target high school students, middle school is a critical time. "(Eighth grade) is a vulnerable age. It tends to be an age when students' thoughts stray to other things rather than focusing on school work," Huckenbeck says. "Inner-city students are pulled so many ways. The peer pressure is ferocious. We are trying to provide them with a positive focus."

"It's never too early to start thinking about a career but at this age, work is probably the furthest thing from their mind," says Gary Angello, a guidance counselor at South Middle School. "We tell them they need to start setting some goals and getting serious about education.

"Sometimes kids in the city don't think about going to college for two reasons. Firstly, they don't believe it's financially feasible and are not aware of the financial opportunities available to them. And second, and sadly, some of them feel they may not even be around at age 18 to attend college -- they may become victims of the streets, the gangs, the legal system, and even AIDS," Angello says.

On March 20, a representative from the UConn admissions office visited each of the schools to describe college life and how to apply for admission and for financial aid, while Fleet Bank personnel outlined the banking industry and corporate careers.

Groups of 35 students from each school will visit UConn's Storrs campus in April. They will travel on the UConn bus that usually transports the men's and women's basketball teams, leaving their school at 9 a.m., and will tour the campus in small groups with UConn students as guides.

The tour will include sitting in on a class, lunch at a campus cafeteria, and visits to the Homer Babbige Library, the UConn Co-op, the Student Union and a dormitory. The students will also go to the African American and Puerto Rican/Latin American cultural centers, prior to a concluding session at Gampel Pavilion. They will return to their school by bus.

In May, the students will visit Fleet Bank's East Hartford branch to see how a bank operates and what a banker does. They will be paired in groups of two or three with a staff person as mentor.

Before the end of the school year, UConn and Fleet Bank staff will visit the schools again to discuss the program with the students and evaluate its effectiveness.

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