Even as the COVID-19 pandemic kept them apart physically, Jones College Prep High School senior Marcus Russell and the diverse, close-knit network of peers he met through University of Chicago’s Collegiate Scholars Program (CSP) made a point to support one another in recent months, setting up their own extra study sessions over Zoom to ensure everybody could keep up in such a challenging year.
“We each have our own different strengths, so we decided, okay, we should work together and teach each other different subjects to help each other,” Russell, who lives in Edgewater, says.
CSP, a program of the Office of Civic Engagement, prepares high-potential, underrepresented Chicago public high school students like Russell for highly selective colleges. Established in 2003 after the UChicago Consortium on School Research found that highly qualified CPS students were underreaching in their college applications, the free, three-year program supports students through enrichment activities and on-campus summer programs. In 2021, 100% of CSP’s graduating cohort were accepted into a college or university with 51% of those accepted into a highly selective school with total reported financial aid awards of $6.71 million.
Russell, a first-generation college student, has been participating in the program since 2018 and was accepted at UChicago and Cal Tech, in addition to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he’ll head in the fall to study mathematics.
“It’s really empowering being [on UChicago’s campus through CSP] and taking these classes, putting in the effort and doing well and seeing you’re capable of learning this and keeping up, ” Russell says. “It’s a really big confidence boost, like yeah, I can handle this.”
CSP programming such as college fairs, career access events, and writing courses were especially helpful, Russell says. The resources gave him an advantage over classmates who weren’t in the program, he says, and helped him refine his college essays.
“That was one of the biggest game-changers for me,” Russell says. “Having that writing guidance was probably one of the biggest factors in helping me get into the colleges I wanted to get into.”
For Russell, participating in CSP offered an outlet to fuel his passions outside of regular school hours and build his confidence alongside like-minded peers he never would have otherwise met. The experience also set him up for success as he prepares for his next chapter in college.
“Not only did I take my classes, but I also made the effort to talk to the professors and the grad students who are teaching — that’s opened doors like [working with a UChicago professor on] my research project and also being able to learn things at an accelerated pace and get ahead in my classes,” Russell says. “They told us on our first day, you get what you put into it, and I agree, if you put in enough, you get multiple times that back. I definitely got much more than I ever could have anticipated.”