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Program prepares pre-frosh for academic rigors

The majority of students would agree that the transition from high school to college can be quite scary.

Each summer the University makes this transition a little easier for a select group of students. The Freshman Scholars Institute is an intensive seven-week program running from mid-July to early September during which time a specially selected group of incoming freshmen take courses for credit and adjust to campus life.

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According to Associate Dean of the College and FSI director Harold McCulloch, the program's purpose is to provide a rigorous academic experience for students before their freshman year. He said the program is designed for students who might be at a disadvantage academically before entering the University because their high schools did not offer a large number of AP-level courses.

"We work closely with the admissions office to find out who would benefit from the program. For instance, if a student has already completed advanced placement courses in math, they wouldn't be a candidate," McCulloch said.

Frank Ordiway '81, GS '90, director of FSI's Program in the Humanities and Social Sciences, said candidates were selected based on their high school coursework. "We read through the same material as the admissions office," he said. "We exclude students who come from extremely challenging high schools or those who have successfully completed college work before coming to college."

According to Ordiway, a large number of minority students choose to participate in FSI. "The percentage of minorities in the actual program is much higher than the percentage in the original applicant pool," he said.

Ordiway said, however, that he and McCulloch do not take race into consideration when offering places in the program. "We don't target any specific group," he added. "We can only speculate about the high percentage of minority students. We invite a lot of people, and the actual participants are a self-selecting group. We're not aiming for [a higher percentage of minority students in the program], but we're not avoiding it."

Many students said the diverse group of participants the program attracts is a benefit. "It's quite unique at Princeton to be working together with so many students of color at the same time," said Damon Nabrit '03, who participated in the 1998 program. "In a way it is very beneficial. Some of the people I've met through the program are now my best friends."

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Maritza Guzman '03, a 1999 FSI participant, said the experience helped her to adjust to a more challenging academic environment. "The program was a lot more rigorous than what I was used to [in high school]," she said. "It was very intense, and I had to be so focused all of the time. It made me figure out where I needed to put in extra work."

Ordiway said he could understand how the University's academic environment might be intimidating. "I went to an unaccredited high school, and when I first arrived here, I was amazed by the high-profile students around me," he said. "As director of studies [at Wilson College], I see students who panic as a result of the people they are around. This program helps them to realize that they can make it here."

Program history

According to McCulloch, the program was created in 1995 and was originally designed for engineering students. The Summer Scholars Institute, as it was called, ran for six weeks and also included non-credit workshops to supplement the two credited courses.

"We saw how SSI was such a success and we decided that students interested in the humanities could benefit from a similar experience," McCulloch said.

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As a result, in 1998, the University created the Freshman Scholars Program in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Based on the success of that inaugural summer, the University agreed to fund both SSI and FSP on a permanent basis, McCulloch added.

In 1999, the University decided to combine the two programs under the single name of the Freshman Scholars Institute, which could accommodate as many as 80 students. The institute was divided into the Program in Science and Engineering — under the direction of Peter Bogucki, assistant dean for undergraduate affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science — and the Program in the Humanities and Social Sciences, directed by Ordiway.

McCulloch said the program relies heavily on the financial support of the University. "There is no tuition fee and any student receiving a University grant will not have to pay for room and board," he said.

Student life

According to McCulloch, all participants were required to take two courses taught by University faculty members. Last summer the program instructors included English and comparative literature professor John Fleming, psychology professor Joel Cooper, mathematics professor Joseph Nelsen and philosophy professor Gideon Rosen.

Ordiway said the program is academically intense. "The courses we offer are not remedial or watered-down in any way," he said. "In fact, they are probably more challenging than many of the courses offered at the University during the school year."

In addition to getting accustomed to the academic rigors of life at Princeton, students also got a taste of dorm life. According to Luck Dookchitra '03, all of the students in the 1999 program were housed in the main inn of Forbes College.

"Because there were so few of us living in such a small environment, we all became very close," she said. "There was a real sense of community."

Crystal Barnes '03, a participant in the 1999 program, said she appreciated the influence of her peers. "One of the best aspects of the program was the social community and having the opportunity to work together as a support system," she said.

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