May 14, 2009
Vol. 28 No. 16

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    From Collegiate Scholars to Chicago first-years: CPS students triumph in competitive admissions

    By Deva Woodly
    News Office

    Photos by Dan Dry

    Lauren Dunning
    Jose Jimenez

    Teachers and counselors describe Lauren Dunning, a student at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, as soft-spoken and yet an uncommonly driven young man. Kim Ransom, Director of the Collegiate Scholars Program, remembers that after Dunning’s initial interview, she came away with the impression that “he is mature beyond his years. He described his ambition as wanting to leave a mark. I thought that was special.”

    The same year, Jose Jimenez, another CPS student from John Hancock College Prep, was undergoing the Collegiate Scholars interview process. Cindy Lys, the Academic Advisor of the Collegiate Scholars Program, remembers that Jose seemed shy at his initial interview, but his grades and performance showed him to be “academically aggressive,” and she learned that he had a great passion for Mexican folk dancing. “These are things you’d never assume on first meeting him,” says Lys, “but over the course of the program, he’s really come out of his shell.”

    Coaxing talented high school freshman out of their shells and encouraging them to excel at their full potential is the mission of Collegiate Scholars, a three-year enrichment program the University offers specifically for Chicago Public Schools students. Those who are admitted to the competitive program, which prepares them for college success, take summer classes in math, literature, social sciences and writing, taught by Chicago faculty members.

    At first, neither Dunning nor Jimenez was particularly excited about attending school in the summer after their first year in high school. But Jimenez said, “now, I don’t regret it. Collegiate Scholars has helped me in ways I never thought it would. What we’ve learned is amazing.”

    Though Dunning did not go to quite the lengths that Jimenez did in order to avoid school during summer, he confesses that at first he looked on the program as a chore. “What ninth-grader going into 10th wants to go to summer school?” he asked.

    However, by the end of their first summer in the program, both Dunning and Jimenez’s natural passion for learning had overtaken any reluctance to spend their summer vacation in classes. During the second summer of the program, both Dunning and Jimenez participated in the elective course Training Early Achievers for Careers in Health, and both reported loving the immersion in medical research training.

    “I really appreciate being able to open so many doors at the University,” Dunning reports, “It gives a glimpse of so many important things.”

    That glimpse of the world often is very different than the Chatham neighborhood where he grew up. Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, located in the Roseland neighborhood, is not one of the most resourced in the CPS system. Even though Dunning has always been a self-starter, there have been many obstacles in his path.

    In a speech he gave during his second year in the Collegiate Scholars program describing his path toward college he wrote, “It was extremely hard to enter high school and maintain my individuality. I was pressured to conform into a typical high school student by my peers and even mentors. These people viewed being different as a threat and advised me against it.” He remembers that one of his teachers even called him “dumb,” but he writes, “I trudged ahead maintaining my individuality and uniqueness.”

    That determination, in combination with his record of achievement, recently won Dunning a Gates Millennium scholarship, a prestigious four-year scholarship to the university of his choice. When he found out he had won, Dunning said he knew his choice immediately. Though he had been accepted to many top schools, including Northwestern University, Emory University and the University of North Carolina, he knew he would enroll at Chicago.

    When he comes to campus to stay in the fall, he will room with his Collegiate Scholars classmate and friend Jose, who also was admitted to the University.

    Three other Collegiate Scholars have accepted admission to Chicago: Fabiola Salazar, the first in her family to graduate high school and a student from Whitney Young High School; Seungwoo Kim, also from Whitney Young; and Elaine Naughton, who is graduating from Walter Payton High School and won a Police Link Scholarship.

    “I’m excited,” Jimenez said. “I just fell in love with the campus during Collegiate Scholars. It just feels like the place I’m supposed to be.”