About 18 years ago, JMU had a boot camp for minorities that were underrepresented at the school. One way to increase their population was to have a summer program where students could live on campus and take classes towards their degree. It was also a way of easing them into college life.
These students had an advisor that became their cheer leader. At times, he was more than that, since many of them were first generation college students. They would have special opportunities during the summer as opposed to the regular semester. Their classes were smaller and professors had more time to devote to them and cater to their special needs.
Orientation to college life was often difficult for most of these students. They missed home, family, and friends. Many dealt with the unfamiliarity of the campus as they studied for the six required hours of beginning english and math. Such an introduction to college life was not easy for some of them.
They studied together and shared rooms in dorms. They bonded. My wife and I remembered visiting our son Matthew in 1999, and seeing him with a group heading to classes. We later were able to join him with others in the student cafeteria for lunch, where they discussed their experiences which they rather liked. This transitional group consisted of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics. They were predominantly Christian in faith.
JMU used many criteria in accepting students into their university that included their GPA, SAT score, essay, activities, and references. My son Matthew’s GPA was not the greatest. His SAT score was good, and he wrote an excellent essay about his trip and experiences while on vacation in Guyana, South America. He was able to focus on the economic, political and social issues there, got a first hand information through observations, insights, and his uncle Jeffrey Thomas, a former Minister of Youth in the early 1970s.
In JMU’s program these students read stories about the university in the Breeze – newspaper. They learned about Alpha Phi Alpha – an African American fraternity that was initiated on March 2, 1979, and other programs that were sponsored by NAACP. To keep physically active, many exercised regularly in the gym. Others ventured into town to shop.
Unfortunately, around 2001, this program ceased to exist because some critics charged that it fostered reverse discrimination. Many students were helped though, through this affirmative action program. Our son was one of them, being able to get great internships, went on to win awards, earn BS degrees – magna cum laude both in Integrated Science and Technology, and Psychology from JMU. Because of his good grades and experiences as an undergraduate, he was able to attend graduate school, and obtained his Masters from John Hopkins University with a joint program with NIH in genetic counseling. He passed his national boards exam and is presently employed as a genetic counselor in pediatrics at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.