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Freshmen Get Ahead in Mendenhall Program
8/20/2012

Freshmen Get Ahead in Mendenhall ProgramThe Mendenhall Summer Institute at the University of St. Thomas helps incoming freshmen from all walks of life to become leaders of faith and character. Freshmen students Briseida Esparza and Marianne Tran have different stories, but the Institute guided them to critically and thoughtfully engage in their academic and social experiences at UST.

The Mendenhall Summer Institute, in its fifth year, is a five-week program for a select group of incoming freshmen with proven academic abilities and involvement in co-curricular activities. The Institute allows students to start their college education early, in addition to having an opportunity to earn a grant for tuition at UST.

The program is made possible by the generous gifts of Mrs. Trini Mendenhall Sosa, former UST board member and ongoing friend of the University. To celebrate the end of the Institute, Mendenhall attended a lunch with the students to honor their hard work.

"The Institute truly adheres to UST's goal of educating leaders of faith and character," said Director for Student Success Dr. Ricardo Montelongo. "The Institute, while challenging, does offer students a strong support team that assists them to believe in themselves and tackle challenges."

Montelongo said the program offers well-rounded courses that prepare students for UST's core curriculum. Program workshops help students become enthusiastic learners and strong future campus leaders.

"Participants typically leave the program with confidence, strong critical thinking skills and a solid connection to UST," he said.

With two tracks of study, Esparza and Tran experienced two different methods of learning that mirrored their diverse paths to UST.

Mendenhall Institute Guides College Transition
Esparza, who is interested in public relations, is a first-generation college student and the first person on her father's side to pursue higher education. From A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, Texas, she was placed in the Institute's College Transition track, which consisted of English and mathematics.

"It was a rigorous track," Esparza said. "The English department whips you into shape and pushes your limits. The math portion is demanding and requires you to use all of your basic skills like your logic and understanding to solve problems. It is not your typical math class."

STEM Track Utilizes Problem Solving, Teamwork
A resident of Alief, Tran, from DeBakey High School for Health Professions in Houston, was involved with the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics track. The Institute's STEM track focused on mathematics and scientific methods. STEM participants are funded by a STEM summer program grant to aid in their program costs.

Tran, who plans to study biology, said it was an interesting learning experience to problem solve with a team.

"In high school, I never really had the chance to work in teams before," Tran said. "Usually, most of the assignments and projects were completed without any outside thoughts or opinions. Every day, math lab helped me listen to others’ ideas and combine a variety of viewpoints together to form a solution. The Mendenhall Summer Institute helped me gain team-building skills that will help me in the future."

Growth in Faith, Reason is Priority at UST
Freshmen Get Ahead in Mendenhall ProgramTran comes from a line of UST alumni with both her brother and sister as graduates. Having seen St. Thomas from their perspectives, she was grateful to experience the campus on her own, especially with regard to growth in her faith.

"Faith has had an immense impact on my decision to go to UST," Tran said. "Growing up in a Catholic family doesn’t always guarantee that you won’t ever struggle with your faith. I thought attending UST would help me to strengthen my faith and values."

Both Esparza and Tran are optimistic about their futures at UST and the Institute helped lay the foundation for growth in faith and reason.

"I learned that anything is possible," Esparza said. "It might sound a little corny, but the Mendenhall Summer Institute shows you what you are capable of achieving. The Institute lets you see that you can do anything and succeed."

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Photo Cutline (left to right): Berker "Mark" Acarturk, Trini Mendenhall Sosa, Briseida Esparza

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