Florida Gulf Coast University prides itself on commitment to the community it serves, but perhaps its greatest outreach mission is to engage Southwest Florida’s younger students from underrepresented populations and prepare them for college, careers and life in general.
That’s why the TRIO Talent Search Program, which operates under Student Success and Enrollment Management, is one of FGCU’s most impactful calling cards in the community. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the program to go virtual like so many other university initiatives, the mission – to provide students from Dunbar and Lehigh Acres middle schools and East Lee County and Dunbar high schools personal tutoring and life-management skills – remains the same, thanks to a new partnership between the TRIO Talent Search Program and two outside organizations, iTutor.com and the Student Success Agency.
“Talent Search students receive virtual tutoring in math and English language arts on a weekly basis,” said Angela J. Corley, Ed.D., TRIO Talent Search project director, who joined FGCU in 2019. “There are also monthly Saturday sessions to include ACT preparation, college and career readiness, as well as STEM Saturdays for middle-school students. Additionally, program staff (which includes Talent Search coordinators Dakendo Michel and Darcy Dalziel) lead virtual class meetings and academic counseling sessions with topics related to study skills, time management and financial literacy.”
All virtual tutoring and instruction take place through iTutor.com, an online educational-services company that “provides a safe and engaging platform for secondary students,” Corley said. Virtual mentoring, meanwhile, takes place through the Student Success Agency, which connects students to mentors called “agents” — a collection of career professionals, niche specialists and high-performing college students, all of whom are strictly vetted.
“The partnership with SSA began as a solution to our program’s inability to host in-person, pre-college mentoring activities on campus due to the pandemic,” Corley said. “Over the summer, we utilized the service and it resulted in our participants receiving 1,216 minutes of engagement with a mentor.
“This partnership was timely and extremely impactful, considering how our program’s recent high school graduates were challenged with transitioning to college during uncertain times,” Corley said.
Even better, the partnership between FGCU and SSA could open part-time employment opportunities for FGCU students who might qualify to become SSA agents working with the younger students. Corley was recently notified that SSA is trying to recruit more agents, and FGCU students interested in applying can do so — and learn more — at this link.
Corley said members of the iTutor and SSA teams went above and beyond to help and serve FGCU’s program, calling the instructors an “integral part of our team’s efforts to provide remote learning opportunities for our students.” From iTutor, Corley specifically cites Yvette Ramos, Ed.D., national education services director; and Courtney Pledge, education director of the Southeast region; and from SSA, Corley commends E.J. Carrion and Michael Benko, co-founders; and Blair Husted, director of school success.
This year’s fall program kicked off virtually Aug. 26 for middle-schoolers and the next day for high-school participants, and will conclude with an end-of-semester event Dec. 11. The middle-school students are tutored in math and English language arts in separate sessions conducted each week by iTutor, and they also have a monthly meeting in the STEM Saturdays Series, and two after-school meetings each month on life-skills topics such as leadership development (September), financial literacy (October) and resiliency (November). High-school participants get the same subject tutoring and after-school meetings, but their Saturday sessions each month are devoted to ACT preparation and college and career readiness. Seniors in the high school group also received pre-college mentoring by SSA on Sept. 18.
The ongoing fall program follows a successful virtual kickoff for TRIO Talent Search at the start of the pandemic, as the program provided three virtual summer camps. “High school students participated in either a College & Career Camp or ACT Camp to prepare for college entrance exams,” Corley said. “Middle school students participated in a STEM camp, wherein they learned coding and techniques for computer programming. By the end of this camp, students presented the coding projects they developed.”
One of those budding programmers was Guidney Lumene, a student at Lehigh Acres Middle School. “Summer camp taught me a lot of things,” she said. “It taught me how to code in two different ways (using Scratch and Repl.it). It was very fun.”
Two of the East Lee High School students, Dean King and Gabriela Santiago-Plaud, sharpened the academic and life skills they’ll need as they enter young adulthood.
“I learned how to prioritize, manage money, and become a better, successful teenager and upcoming adult,” King said.
“The FGCU summer camp was a great experience for me because I got to learn new ways to prepare for the ACT test, and also practice skills that I already knew,” Santiago-Plaud said. “The teachers were very nice and helpful. It was overall a very nice experience.”
Two other East Lee High School students – Elshamma Saint-Lot and
— represented the program at the National Student Leadership Congress, which is usually held as a weeklong camp in Washington, D.C., but took place virtually this year due to the pandemic.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE TRIO TALENT SEARCH PROGRAM
The TRIO Talent Search Program strives to assist students so that …
- 95% of non-seniors will be promoted
- 90% of seniors will graduate with a regular high school diploma
- 80% of seniors will graduate with a rigorous secondary curriculum
- 60% of graduates will enroll in postsecondary education
- 45% of those who enroll in postsecondary education will graduate within 6 years