Nance Hahn works to provide a diverse experience for SU Summer College students
Nance Hahn sits in her office at 111 Waverly Avenue, looking through the new Summer College brochure.
“It’s the MTV-on-paper kind of thing,” she says with a smile.
Hahn is the director of Summer College, a six-week program July 1 through Aug. 10 at Syracuse University where high school students earn college credits while experiencing campus life. She takes a hands-on approach to all aspects of the program, from recruiting new participants to fielding parents’ concerns.
The program itself is celebrating its 40th year, but Hahn is a relative newcomer. She joined Summer College as associate director on Jan. 1, 2000, and became director this July 1. Hahn is also the interim director of the Office of Academic Development and College Preparation Programs.
The Summer College audience-comprising high school juniors, seniors and recent graduates-spans a wide range of economic, racial, geographic and educational backgrounds. Students apply for the program in the spring, submitting an application that includes a recommendation form and high school transcript. They select a liberal arts, pre-professional or studio arts program, and enroll in two classes when they get to campus with the help of an academic advisor. Participants earn six or seven college credits to use toward their post-secondary education.
The pre-professional programs include engineering and computer science, law, management and public communications. The studio arts programs offered include acting and musical theater, architecture, art and design, and fashion and textile design.
Students cite many reasons for choosing SU’s summer program. For Josh Goldberg of Washington, D.C., there is a practical reason. “It was either this or a really low-paying job-the choice is obvious,” he says.
“It was my chance to check out the school and start my portfolio and see if I like architecture,” says Melissa Ruohonen, a high school senior from Chicago.
Increasing the program’s diversity was one of Hahn’s major goals. When she started as associate director, about 10 percent of students enrolled in Summer College identified themselves as people of color, Hahn says. In just two summers, that number has risen to 37 percent.
“I was committed to raising it,” Hahn says. “I tried to create a sense that this would be a comfortable place for everybody.” She worked to increase the number of students of color by reflecting the program’s diversity in the brochure, networking through high schools, and relying on word-of-mouth.
Hahn says Summer College, located in the Division of Student Support and Retention, helps to “college-proof” some at-risk populations, such as African American and Latino students.
Along with an increase in diversity, the overall Summer College enrollment has increased dramatically. Hahn raised the number of students to 225 this year, up from 176 last year. Among the participants are 10 international students.
Hahn travels to high schools and “summer opportunity” fairs each month and looks to recruit a variety of students, acknowledging that “If I can raise my overall population, I can raise the population that’s on scholarship.” The number of scholarships for the program-which costs about $4,500-is limited. Summer College provides about $106,000 in financial aid, and Hahn works hard to recruit foundations that will sponsor students.
“Nance has been bold and has been a risk-taker in giving financial aid to students of color,” says her predecessor, James Duah-Agyeman, now director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Increasing the number of scholarship recipients helps to boost diversity, which “makes for a more interesting experience for everybody,” Hahn explains.
Duah-Agyeman praises Hahn’s efforts to “build a program around diversity so that students can be challenged amongst themselves to live in a diverse environment.”
The program also serves to heighten students’ interest in SU. “Before I came here, Syracuse was almost on my list. [Now] I really, really want to go here,” says high school senior Zaki Robbins, an architecture student from Colorado.
The scholars’ summer experience extends far beyond the classroom, too. The students live in Boland Hall, split coed by floor, and eat in the adjacent dining hall. They have gone on field trips to the Sterling Renaissance Festival and Six Flags Darien Lake, and have enjoyed a skating party at the Tennity Ice Pavilion on South Campus.
Hahn enjoys getting to know students individually. “Nance knows each and every one of these students by face, by name, by program,” says Nora Downey-Easter, Summer College program assistant. Hahn lives in the residence hall with them two or three nights a week, providing academic support and getting acquainted.
Hahn says she hopes students will share their experience with friends back home and encourage them to attend.