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Credit: Kasra Koushan

Facilitating workshops on SAT preparation and hosting summer programs would not seem to fall under the purview of an admissions officer. But at Penn, the Admissions office partners with over 40 different community-based organizations that work directly with underrepresented high school students — low-income, first-generation and underrepresented minorities — on applying to and succeeding in college.

“Our approach is going to be one in which how can we make sure that students are aware of Penn,” Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said. “How can we work with organizations that are supporting students … what can we learn overall about students transitioning into college?”

These partnerships range from facilitating tours, to hosting community organization directors on campus, to developing contacts between admissions officers and such organizations. Tara Gellene — the senior director of college pathways at Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America — recalled how Penn helped excite a LEDA student about attending the university.

“We had a student apply to Penn who was living in transitional housing at the time,” Gellene said. “We were in strong communication with Nicole in admissions about this student, and after he was admitted to Penn early decision, she … went to visit him at his high school, and she brought him a whole bunch of Penn gear.”

“Her belief to … reach out to the student, I think, really helped him start to see Penn as a place that he could call home,” she added.

As a Steppingstone Scholar, College freshman Andy Nguyen took a summer course as part of the Blended Learning Initiative, a partnership between Penn and Steppingstone to offer a combination of online courses on Coursera and classes on Penn’s campus.

“I learned a lot of study skills because a lot of it was college level material to get used to as a rising high school junior,” Nguyen said. “I received a lot of support; not only did I learn about Greek and Roman mythology, I also learned about college [applications], SAT and interacted with a lot of Penn staff.”

Furda said that the Admissions Office will strive to deepen its relationship with these community organizations by providing a source of information for all high school students considering college.

“I hope we can become a knowledge base for these [community organizations],” Furda said. “We’re trying to incrementally improve the lives of students through higher education and part of that is for the students coming [to Penn], but it’s also much wider.”