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Opening Doors

It’s always a big moment when the high-school students in Pomona College’s Summer Scholars program are handed the keys to the dorm rooms they’ll be living in for a month.

“It absolutely stuns them,” says Motts Thomas, director of community programs. “'Is this real? Am I going to have my very own room?’”

In its third year, Pomona College’s Summer Scholars program is designed to open doors to college for promising high school students. Participants come from socioeconomic and ethnic groups traditionally underrepresented at schools such as Pomona. Typically, they will be the first in their family to attend college.

More than 90 high school students are enrolled in the month-long program that began in late June. Participants attend for three consecutive summers, commuting to campus each weekday during their first year, then living on campus in the residence halls during their second and third summers.

In small classes and discussion groups, students delve into everything from algebra to SAT preparation to mock interviews with college admissions officers. The primary focus is on math and writing, but students also can explore electives in subjects such as music, theatre and photography. Pomona professors and Pomona students, serving as teaching assistants, work with the scholars in daily tutorial sessions.

Francisco Suarez, a 15-year-old from Pomona High, enjoys the classroom discussions. “Talking about gender and race and all that stuff is fun,” he says.

In her third year with the program, Xoan Lam of Pomona is enjoying living on a college campus. "I get to meet new people and learn more about other schools," she said.

Participants come from as far away as Wilson High School in Los Angeles to the west and A.B. Miller High in Fontana to the east. Most hail from a closer-to-campus core of high schools such as Montclair, Pomona, Pomona Catholic, Diamond Ranch (Diamond Bar) and Colony High (Ontario). More than 100 teens applied for the 36 slots open for this summer.

Overseeing the program, Thomas deals with a wide range of constituencies on and off campus. He cultivates relationships with high school teachers who point promising students toward the program. He talks to participants' parents and works to keep students and their families connected to Pomona during the regular school year.

”It’s Pomona’s way of nurturing and growing our own scholars,” said Thomas. “There’s an investment in these kids and their families. It’s such a beautiful thing.”

This summer is special because the original group of students, 33 in all, is completing its third and final year in the program. In the fall, they will start their senior years in high school and will be applying to colleges. Thomas hopes some of the students will wind up attending Pomona.

The program is free of charge, but students only are invited back each summer if they maintain academic excellence in high school. Participants say the summer program helps them to do just that.

After studying algebra in the summer program, Treisi Ramirez found her Algebra II class in high school was more like a review.

She cried her first day staying in the dorms this summer because she missed her family. But she’s thankful to be able to participate in the program. “I know it’s going to be very helpful for my college experience,” said Ramirez, an 18-year-old from Montclair.