Programs prepare Chicago’s future scholars for college success

Nneka and Maureen Jones

In one of the photos of Nneka Jones taken before her 2018 graduation from George Westinghouse College Prep, she’s holding a whiteboard on which she’s written, “Never be afraid to do something you thought you could never do.”

“From my background on the South Side, sometimes you don’t see the possibilities,” explains Jones, who grew up in the Jeffrey Manor neighborhood and earned a Posse Foundation Scholarship to Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. A world of possibilities opened up, Jones says, when she joined UChicago’s Collegiate Scholars program (CSP) in the ninth grade.

Collegiate Scholars are high-potential, underrepresented students at Chicago public high schools who participate during the school year in enrichment activities geared toward college readiness, leadership development, cultural awareness, and civic engagement. And during the summer months, they experience life on campus while taking humanities, social science, math, and science courses taught by University of Chicago faculty and PhD candidates. All CSP activities are designed to help scholars envision themselves succeeding at highly selective colleges.

CSP is one of the UChicago Office of Civic Engagement’s educational outreach programs devoted to ensuring college readiness and access for talented Chicago high school students with financial need. Students can also participate in programs offered by the Office of Special Programs–College Prep (OSP), such as Upward Bound, which provides year-round academic support — plus help navigating college admissions and financial aid — to students from four communities and four high schools near campus.

A third program, College Bridge, gives Chicago Public Schools students the chance to sample rigorous University of Chicago coursework for free during the school year or over the summer. Students have the same experience as enrolled UChicago students, and also meet regularly with an academic advisor from the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.

All three programs are part of UChicago Promise, the University’s multipronged initiative designed to help students and families throughout the City of Chicago gain admission to, pay for, and thrive in college. 

According to Jones, one of CSP’s biggest benefits was the way it built her confidence about interacting with professors, mentors, and a diverse group of fellow students. Her mom, Maureen, agrees: “Nneka was always a dedicated, high-achieving student, but CSP took her education to the next level. Interacting directly with UChicago professors helped her think more analytically and gain confidence in herself.”

Jones, who was accepted to more than twenty colleges, is majoring in political science and business management, with an eye toward eventually returning to Chicago and working in a capacity that enables her to give back to the community.

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