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Students Name Mendenhall Their Dream Keeper

Mendenhallers Present Dream Box to Trini Mendenhall-SosaThe Mendenhall Summer Institute at the University of St. Thomas closes the gap between high school and college for recent high school graduates. The five-week program, finishing its sixth run, helps incoming freshmen adjust to the rigors and challenges of college life.

The program started in 2008 with a generous gift from Trini Mendenhall-Sosa. During a celebration luncheon on Aug.1, the 45 students recognized Mendenhall-Sosa as their keeper of dreams as they aspire to graduate from St. Thomas in 2017. The cohort surprised her with a time capsule box for all the support she has given the students, presented by Brittany Bigott.

“I decided to decorate the time capsule with pictures of our program so Mrs. Mendenhall could feel like we are all involved,” Bigott said. “In four-year time, when we all graduate, she is allowed to open up the capsule and read the letters we wrote with all of our goals and hopes for our college experience.  It it's a way to keep her in our lives as our dream keeper.”

The Summer Institute, held from July 9 through Aug. 8, offered two separate tracks and allowed the students to earn six college credit hours, in addition to having an opportunity to earn a grant for tuition at UST.

CELT Track

Brittany BigottIn the Creating Engaged Learners & Thinkers (CELT) track, 24 students were prepared for college level critical thinking through foundational courses in mathematics and English.

Bigott, an incoming freshman women’s basketball player interested in marketing, is a graduate of Seven Lakes High School in Katy, Texas. She said the CELT experience prepared her for a smoother transition into college life come fall.

“I’ve had a really fun time,” Bigott said. “I feel like I’m more prepared. Starting college isn’t something I’m nervous about. I’ve been here five weeks, and I know I can get through it smoothly. I don’t have to worry about freaking out, not knowing where things are or not knowing anybody.”

STEM Track

Carlos GarciaIn the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) track, 21 students enhanced their mathematical and problem solving skills with the goal of greater achievement in STEM specific courses.

The STEM track is focused on mathematics and scientific methods and is designed for science, mathematics or cooperative engineering students. However, any student can benefit from the course, as it happened to Carlos Garcia, a graduate of Reagan High School in the Heights, who is interested in political science and psychology.

“It was centered on math, so I didn’t like it at first,” Garcia said. “But Dr. John Starner is a really good professor. I like that he taught us to take notes and I’m not used to taking notes. I’m used to absorbing the knowledge really fast.”

Peer Mentors

Samantha Loos-PolkAn additional aspect to the program that contributes to the success of the students is the student mentors, graduates of previous Summer Institutes who mentor current students about classes and the transition into college.

Samantha Loos-Polk, a sophomore nursing major, was one of 11 mentors for the 2013 cohort. She participated in MSI in 2012 and wished to help incoming freshman experience the same positive and rewarding experience.

“Throughout my MSI experience, I was able to get a firsthand look at what college was going to be like at UST before the start of the school year,” Loos-Polk said. “I applied to be a mentor because I wanted to give insight and help the incoming nursing students. There were no nursing majors within this year's MSI, but I am still able to help other students in a positive way regarding their questions about UST or their future goals.”

Transition for College Success

2013 Mendenhall Summer InstituteDr. Ric Montelongo, director of student success, said the Mendenhall Summer Institute combines a rigorous summer curriculum with personal development strategies to make college more meaningful.  He helps students find balance between exploring new leadership opportunities and focusing on academic aspirations.

“I found that students who participated in the program leave with a strong sense of knowing what it takes to succeed in the college classroom,” Montelongo said. “They also leave with a strong sense of self-confidence to face challenges both in and out of the classroom.  This self-confidence, I believe, is the driving force that makes Mendenhallers strong campus leaders.” 

Bigott, Garcia and Loos-Polk look forward to what the upcoming year has to bring with the MSI 2013 experience under their belt.

“I was blessed to have been in this program,” Garcia said. “I feel more confident. Incoming freshman should participate Mendenhall.”