College of Education > News and Publications > 2016: 10-12 news > S.C.O.P.E. program helps prospective students put Penn State in focus

S.C.O.P.E. program helps prospective students put Penn State in focus

The success of Penn State’s Summer College Opportunity Program in Education (S.C.O.P.E.) is tied directly to the program’s organizers within the College of Education’s Office of Multicultural Programs, along with donors, instructors, tutors and counselors.

If, as it is often said, everybody has a story, then the people profoundly devoted to Penn State’s Summer College Opportunity Program in Education (S.C.O.P.E.) are the ones who enjoy first discovering and ultimately helping students turn their stories into ones with happy endings.

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Jevon Corpening, a College of Education student majoring in Spanish education, learned about Penn State through the S.C.O.P.E. program.
Those key people aren’t just the program’s organizers within the College of Education’s Office of Multicultural Programs — Maria Schmidt, Gary Abdullah and Brenda Martinez — they include donors, instructors, tutors and counselors. Each of them shares the common goals of informing high school students about what to expect in college, being there for them if and when they enroll and, in many instances, keeping in touch long after they leave.

S.C.O.P.E. is a four-week summer academic program primarily for rising high school juniors from multicultural backgrounds who are interested in the field of education. They take college courses, write a research paper, prepare for SATs and learn study and time-management skills. They also learn teamwork by navigating ropes courses, such as the one shown on the previous page.

But it’s a daily emotional investment for those who first meet them as teenagers who may not have initially considered college and, if they choose to attend Penn State, lend plenty of hands in helping to shape them into confident, young adults who leave the University with not only degrees but also high hopes and dynamic plans.

“It would be hard to not get invested emotionally,’’ said Abdullah, a multicultural programs coordinator. “I feel in order to be effective in this role and roles we have in this office, you have to be emotionally invested. It has to be more than just work. It has to be belief in what you’re doing; you believe in these individuals in order for them to feel it.

“That’s why the program can be tiring,’’ he said. “Aside from the fact we have high-schoolers up here for four weeks and have to make sure they stay in line, it is the amount of emotional investment you put into it that can really be tiring. It’s 112 percent worth it.’’

Program support

The program, despite its success and tangible results for students, wouldn’t be what it is without philanthropy. S.C.O.P.E. is supported financially by three methods: donors, an allocation of funds from the College of Education and the Office of Educational Equity.

Boston resident John Gilmartin, who for years has been a major contributor to Penn State and the College of Education -- in particular the S.C.O.P.E. program -- takes pleasure in keeping abreast of the success stories.

“I think the best thing that can happen is that by the time they’re done they can look down and see that it’s their own two feet that they’re standing on.''
--John Gilmartin

“I think it’s important we be creative in building bridges that kids who come from the inner city can walk on to find their way to the type of rich educational experience that is offered by Penn State,’’ Gilmartin said.

“I think S.C.O.P.E. is one of those creative bridges that early on in their high school career a student has the possibility to open their minds to the chance to go on to higher education.’’

Maria Schmidt, assistant dean for multicultural programs, said Gilmartin has been a permanent, long-term supporter of the program from the very first summer in 2002.

Gilmartin also supports current undergraduate students through the John Gilmartin Trustee Scholarship. This funding has supported S.C.O.P.E. alumni including Jevon Corpening, a 2013 participant and now a junior studying Spanish education.

“This man I’ve never met before has had such an impact on my academic journey; I’d really like to meet him, actually,’’ Corpening said.

Kaela Fuentes currently serves on the College of Education’s Alumni Society Board. She participated in S.C.O.P.E. in 2004, just two years after its inception, and after enrolling at Penn State was one of the first to navigate the College of Education’s Integrated Undergraduate/Graduate (IUG) program. That is a five-year progression in which students receive a bachelor’s degree in special education and master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.

 Fuentes graduated in 2011 and worked for three years at the Grove School in Madison, Connecticut, a therapeutic, college-preparatory boarding school, before returning to Penn State in August to begin pursuit of a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction.

 And, she, too, is a donor. “I mean a little bit. At the end of the day I was still a teacher and it was never going to be millions,’’ she said.

“I was so lucky in receiving the scholarships I received and when I went to donate I tried to split my money between the scholarship funds and S.C.O.P.E. because those two things were what made my experience here possible. S.C.O.P.E. showing me how amazing Penn State is and once I got here those scholarships made it possible for me to go here.’’

Schmidt said a number of S.C.O.P.E. alumni, and those who were instructors when they were earning their doctoral degrees, donate small amounts that add up to sizable support. (To read more about Maria Schmidt's impact on the program, click here.)

“Many times we think that unless we are able to donate large amounts of money that we are not going to be able to make a difference,’’ Schmidt said. “And I tell the students, ‘no, think about it. You take 20 people giving $10 every month and that can make a difference at the end of the year. You can help students purchase books.’ So I’m trying to help educate students to see that makes a difference.’’

Schmidt also lauded the behind-the-scenes assistance and the “good will” of the people who work in the program.

 “Most of the people who work every summer, they have a commitment that is not about having a summer job, they have a commitment to the goals of the program,’’ she said. “They also have that passion to try to influence and facilitate change.’’

An early look at college

Fuentes, a graduate of Easton Area High School, always had planned to attend college. The S.C.O.P.E. program turned the question of ‘where’ into an easy answer.

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Kaela Fuentes participated in the S.C.O.P.E. program in 2004, earned a pair of degrees in the College of Education, worked for three years in Connecticut and returned to Penn State to pursue her doctoral degree.
“For so many students coming to S.C.O.P.E., it’s, ‘oh my God, I can go to college and I can have a career and I can change my situation,’’’ she said.

“For me, I feel like S.C.O.P.E. put Penn State on my radar, not necessarily college, but for so many other students, it did put college on their radar,’’ Fuentes said.

“They probably wouldn’t have gotten in through their families or through the support systems that they had in their hometowns.’’

Corpening learned about the program from his guidance counselor at Pennwood High School.

“Being away from home on a college campus was enticing, I guess. Enjoyed it was an understatement; I loved it,’’ he said.

“It was one of the best experiences I ever had. It was one of the most productive and formative experiences I had other than the experience I’ve had here in college already, just because I learned a lot about myself and how to deal with other people. It solidified this idea of me wanting to go into education,’’ Corpening said.

Appreciation shown ... and appreciated

The program’s participants are called “S.C.O.P.E.rs” and they routinely write thank-you notes to an appreciative Gilmartin. “It’s absolutely amazing,’’ he said.

“It really grabs your attention and they are wonderfully creative and colorful expressions of the way that this program moves them and their thanks for being part of it … of which I’m only a piece of why they’re there; it’s certainly not all me.

“The S.C.O.P.E.rs in total seem to be such a positive force reinforcing each other’s needs and desires and dreams, it’s something that can energize all of us. Collectively they make a wonderful impact that overwhelms any individual sense that I wind up with,’’ Gilmartin said.

S.C.O.P.E. had a significant impact on Loretta Lowman. A high school junior who wasn’t certain the program was right for her in 2007, Lowman returned this past July to be a S.C.O.P.E. counselor.

She grew up in a three-bedroom, East Orange, New Jersey, bungalow that – including extended family – housed 12 people. At times, the family had little to no food, water or electricity.

“My mother told me that God blessed me with a chance that not many people like me get,’’ Lowman said in July prior to her S.C.O.P.E. commitment. “Going to Penn State meant breaking down a wall that my family thought was impossible to do.’’

She, too, received the John Gilmartin Trustee Scholarship and the University Student Way Pavers Award. Now a special education teacher with the Charles County Public School System in Maryland, Lowman graduated in 2015 from the five-year IUG program. “My summer in S.C.O.P.E. is something I will never forget,’’ she said. “It is where I became a new person.’’

Making the most of the opportunity

While S.C.O.P.E. does provide an opportunity, it’s what those who participate do with that opportunity that lends credence to the program. Fuentes returning to begin her doctorate, for example, or Lowman teaching special education students.

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Gary Abdullah, a multicultural programs coordinator in the College of Education, helps coordinate the S.C.O.P.E. program.
Corpening has an elongated list of aspirations that begins with study-abroad trips and applying for the McNair Scholarship Program. He’s also applying for head innovation consultant in the Krause Innovation Studio, he’s an ESL tutor for prospective Penn State students and he’s a mentor for a freshman student.

There’s more. “I have a bucket list of languages I want to learn,’’ he said. “I know English and Spanish. I want to learn Arabic, Korean, French and maybe Farsi because that’s related to Arabic. I’m still interested in going into the FBI, which is a different spectrum of education but education is really what is the most interesting thing to me right now.

“I want to work in the intersection of education, race, culture, politics, class … kind of in that realm. I want to become a counselor for minority youth. I want to obtain my Ph.D. someday and become a college professor. I don’t like to overwhelm myself but I’m interested in so many things that it can kind of become overwhelming,’’ Corpening said.

He says there’s power in the ability to communicate one-on-one with someone. “I think being a social justice activist is kind of my end goal in terms of education and race,’’ he said.

Corpening said his schedule actually prevents him from going off the rails of stress and anxiety. Daily stops into the Office of Multicultural programs in Chambers Building also are therapeutic, as are chats with Schmidt.

“Maria… we always talk, we talk almost every day,’’ Corpening said. “I’m in the College of Ed every day anyway because it’s my major, but downstairs is like my home away from home in many ways. And Maria’s like, ‘it’s much better to be stressed about navigating so many opportunities instead of not having any opportunities.’

“There’s definitely been some tears shed in that office, and many hugs and many laughs,’’ he said.

Keeping in touch

Leaders keeping an eye – and ear – on S.C.O.P.E. students is what pleases Gilmartin about S.C.O.P.E.

“I think the best thing that can happen is that by the time they’re done they can look down and see that it’s their own two feet that they’re standing on,’’ Gilmartin said.

“That they have managed to make it through all of the different kinds of out-of-body experiences that happened in the classroom, in the dorm, with the other kids – everything from lectures to laundry.

“Everything represents a challenge, everything is something that is new and different and something they’ll have to think about if they choose again to go away from home and undertake an educational experience, be it at Penn State or somewhere else. I think they come to realize that ‘I can do this,’ and that’s a magic moment,’’ he said.

And that’s mission accomplished for Gilmartin, who is thankful for the efforts of the Office of Multicultural Programs and the efforts of Schmidt and her legion of devoted people who make the program what it is.

“You can’t help everybody but you can help somebody and that happens with S.C.O.P.E.,’’ Gilmartin  said.

“I think that’s the way Maria looks at it and she has over the years done a ton of good work that many, many people are grateful to her for.’’

Jim Carlson (November 2016)