September 30, 2022

Helping Roosevelt High Schoolers Visualize College

Over the summer, Lewis & Clark undergraduates mentored Roosevelt High School students in the first year of the College Success Program, founded by Professor Mitch Reyes and supported by the Mellon Foundation.

Roosevelt High School students with Lewis & Clark mentors and Professor Mitch Reyes during th... Roosevelt High School students with Lewis & Clark mentors and Professor Mitch Reyes during the inaugural College Success Program in June 2022.

Across the Willamette River, just a 20-minute drive from the Lewis & Clark campus, is Roosevelt High School, a highly diverse public school in North Portland. The school serves more than 1,500 students, the majority of whom are non-white (majority Hispanic), low-income, and prospective first-generation college students. This past June, nine rising Roosevelt seniors participated in Lewis & Clark’s inaugural College Success Program, where they learned essential skills to prepare for college with the close support of four Lewis & Clark “near-peer mentors.”

From Fall Course to Summer Program

Professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies Mitch Reyes Professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies Mitch ReyesThe innovative two-week summer program was developed by Mitch Reyes, professor and chair of rhetoric and media studies, who has facilitated a relationship between the college and Roosevelt High School for more than a decade. It all started with Reyes’ course called Argument and Social Justice, in which students function as mentors to students at the high school during the fall semester. In the course, students learn how to apply strategies of argument and self-advocacy as they write scholarship essays and apply to colleges.

In 2018 alone, this program helped Roosevelt students secure more than $1.8 million in scholarships and grants. Professor Reyes recognized the potential of extending the program beyond the fall semester, as well as the opportunities that could come from bringing students onto a college campus, where they could visualize themselves as undergraduate students.

“Prior to developing the outreach course and program, we rarely—if ever—had Roosevelt students enroll at Lewis & Clark,” said Reyes. “Now several Roosevelt students come to the college and thrive as students.”

In collaboration with other Lewis & Clark faculty, Reyes applied for a $750,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, which directly supported the development and implementation of the College Success Program. The Mellon grant funded Reyes’ 2022 summer pilot program; it will also fund the program for two additional summers.

Community Engagement Coordinator Alexis Rehrmann, Center for Community and Global Health Community Engagement Coordinator Alexis Rehrmann, Center for Community and Global HealthLewis & Clark’s Center for Community and Global Health joined Reyes as a program collaborator. “The community partnership with Roosevelt High School allows us to serve low-income students who might not otherwise see college in their future paths,” said Alexis Rehrmann, the center’s community engagement coordinator. “The use of narrative and writing skills, organized around the personal college essay, speak directly to our work to heal through narrative.”

Belonging on a College Campus

This past summer, nine Roosevelt students, all of whom would be considered first-generation college students and 78 percent BIPOC, came to the Lewis & Clark campus to engage in two weeks of workshops on social justice, community, and belonging in spaces of higher education. They also learned strategies for applying to colleges and locating funding, as well as strengthening their writing and composition skills in preparation for the college admissions essay.

As part of the program, the Roosevelt students worked one-on-one with four Lewis & Clark mentors, who were close to the Roosevelt students in age. For the L&C students, the experience served as a meaningful opportunity to help make college more accessible for underrepresented communities, which is in line with Lewis & Clark’s values of equity and inclusion.

Tadao Kumasaka BA ’22, a rhetoric and media studies major, helped students craft their personal statements for college applications by digging into their own stories and narratives in thoughtful ways. With Kumasaka’s guidance, one Roosevelt student worked on a statement about the culture shock of moving from Hawai‘i to Portland, letting her heritage shine through and using metaphors to capture the natural beauty of her home island.

“The most rewarding aspects of the mentorship were the subtle moments when the mentees showed a shift in perspective,” Kumasaka said. “After activities or talks, a student would come up and say that they had never considered the possibility of pursuing education in a certain way.”

Similarly, Teresa Serra BA ’24, an international affairs major, was keenly aware of the transformative power of the experience. Originally from a small town in Portugal, she was eager to share the educational opportunities and resources she found when applying for colleges.

“Many of the students who attended were indifferent to the idea of going to college at the beginning of the program,” Serra said. “As time went on and as more information was shared with them, you could see that curiosity begin to spark. Some students were even entertaining ideas of studying abroad and came to me for information on how to find full-ride scholarships outside of the U.S.”

In the years to come, Reyes hopes to grow the program to serve more students, encouraged by the positive feedback from the inaugural class.

“I’ve seen the Roosevelt students go on to graduate from college and become teachers and community advocates,” said Reyes. “I feel we are helping to address systemic inequality one student at a time.”

College Success Program Rhetoric and Media Studies Center for Community and Global Health