The Utah Scholars Initiative (USI) is part of the Board of Regents strategy to improve the college readiness of Utah high school students by directly partnering with K-12. Started in 2006, USI works in close partnership with 14 Utah school districts. Focusing first on districts with the greatest potential impact, the program touches each 8th grader as she or he is registering for 9th grade classes – their first year of high school. This intentional timing is to help students understand that a rigorous academic record during high school is key to a lifetime of success including college and career. The USI program relies on an army of volunteers who go into eighth grade classrooms using a high-impact, interactive presentation intended to motivate students to complete a defined curriculum while in high school to better prepare them for college and future employment.
The program outlines a specific course outline for high school, emphasizing rigor while preserving flexibility to allow for students’ interests. During the 2013-14 academic year, USI touched over 29,000 eighth graders. The USI program is the largest program in the state focused on assisting underserved students to prepare for college and is the primary outreach for the merit-based Regents’ Scholarship, available to all Utah high school students.
Utah Scholars relies on support from businesses and volunteers
Most volunteers give from 3 to 7 presentations a year, depending on time availability and interest level, and spend one or two days in the schools. Most often, program administrators work to keep volunteer opportunities convenient by aligning opportunities close to home or work, depending on volunteer preferences. Every volunteer participates in an annual training to ensure consistency and be informed of any program updates.
Already this year, nearly 200 volunteers have worked to support Utah Scholars. Businesses such as the Utah Technology Council, EnergySolutions, Love Communications, and Cyprus Credit Union have encouraged their members and employees to volunteer:
Volunteer Layne Christensen from Rockwell Collins said,
“I look forward to giving every presentation and hope that in some way that I can help make a difference for one of the kids there. I would recommend it to everyone. I have been able to give presentations in 7 different schools so far and have had a great experience with each one of them.”
Wendy Gibson has been volunteering since 2010 and says,
“Many of the children I present to do not feel that college is an option for them and I feel it’s important to share my story as a first-time college student. I try to make a connection with the students and convey this important message in a way that will help shape their outlook and future.”
Tom Love, Love Communications, “Now is the time to reach these kids, when they are in eighth grade and just starting to think about their future. You can see the excitement on their faces when we talk about how college really is for everyone, and how continuing their education after high school benefits them in the long-run.”
The Utah Scholars curriculum is within everyone’s reach
The courses outlined by the Utah Scholars program are within everyone’s reach in grades 9-12, and will prepare students for what comes next. Students who graduate with the Utah Scholars distinction receive a certificate, a medallion to wear at high school graduation, and are well-positioned to apply for scholarships, including the Regents’ Scholarship.
“The presentation showed how critical it is to start preparing now. It taught me things I would have never known.” –Sunset Junior High student
“I liked that I can go to college if I put my mind to it and stay in school.” –Bennion Junior High School student