Bartlett High School Students Jumpstart College with Nichols Partnership


Nichols College has recently joined forces with Webster’s Bartlett High School to raise awareness of high school students about the importance of college goals and help them get a head start on college life.

The Nichols Honors Academy (NHA) was launched last year for Bartlett first-year students to acclimate them to the college workload and lifestyle. The program has been made possible by benefactors Nichols Trustee Emeritus Gerald Fels and his wife, Marilyn Fels. This year, a new program catered to Bartlett junior women, College Connection, has been designed to promote female student leadership.

In October, 22 Bartlett first-year students were inducted into the NHA in a ceremony held in Daniels Auditorium. Throughout the day, the students toured the campus and were given Nichols IDs to use the library and attend campus events, while the sophomores sat in on an ethics class. Later, each new inductee was given a free Google Chromebook laptop and a goodie bag of Nichols apparel. The Chromebooks were generously donated by Mr. and Mrs. Fels; the students will use them for school assignments and accelerated coursework.

In order to qualify for the Nichols Honors Academy, first-year high school students must undergo an application process that includes an essay, recommendations, review of achievements, and an entrance exam. Once inducted they will take accelerated courses for their core classes and pick an Advanced Placement (AP) course in their sophomore year. Nichols faculty will assist in teaching these courses. By their junior and senior years, it is anticipated that the high school students will be able to take college level courses on the Nichols campus.

Professor Mauri Pelto, associate dean of liberal arts and academic coordinator of the Nichols Honors Academy, put the value of academics into perspective.

“If you end up taking four [college] classes in this program, that’s a semester’s worth of tuition,” he said. “It is important to have a good GPA for merit scholarships; there are thousand-dollar differences between a B and an A.”

Bartlett High School Principal Steve Knowlton expressed his pride for the sophomore students who paved the way for the incoming first-year students.

“This is a great opportunity and will require hard work,” he said. “Ask for help; counselors, Nichols staff, and other students are there to help you overcome difficulties.”

The sophomores in the crowd agreed that the workload is vigorous, but not one of them has decided to withdraw from the program.

“We want to partner with the community in ways that make sense. The NHA can expand horizons and help students find their passions,” said Nichols College President Susan West Engelkemeyer, Ph.D.

Nichols will also reap major benefits by connecting with Bartlett. The college is looking to increase the number of Webster-based commuter students, and is striving for high SAT entrance requirements and increased retention rates. Introducing accelerated high school students to campus will make these goals attainable.

This partnership has attracted the attention of other surrounding high schools. Nichols is planning to include Shepherd Hill Regional High School in the NHA once a benefactor has been confirmed.

Dr. Diane Bemis, chair of the Bartlett Nichols Partnership Committee and assistant professor of education relayed, “I’m excited for the program to continue. When we share our resources and curricula with the community, everyone benefits.”

College Connection is a separate collaboration from the NHA. Its first event was held Oct. 28 at Nichols College. The program helps Bartlett junior women gain confidence in their leadership skills and prepares them for college and job interviews. The Institute for Women’s Leadership sponsors the program, which is made possible also in part by a grant from the American Association of University Women.

The first event included a panel of alumni—Abby Gould, Ashley O’Keefe, Kerry Postale, Autumn Hicks, and Alyse Viens—who discussed their path to Nichols and beyond. Later, the students participated in exercises that examined their academic and personal interests and created goals.

“Try everything, take different classes to find your major,” said Viens, a 2014 Nichols graduate. “The best decisions are scary so don’t box yourself in. Keep in mind that you don’t need to pick just one thing.”

Allowing students to work with alumni showed them that college is variable. All of the alumni stressed how important it is to follow a passion and know that it’s possible to change careers and change plans midway through.

During the College Connection event, Bartlett Guidance Counselors Kim Dobro and Christopher Shen and Vice Principal Rebecca Czernicki were on hand to observe their students in the college environment. They had selected the 20 students with the help of their teachers based on the students’ potential and likeliness to benefit from the program.

“What I’ve been seeing today are students’ eyes being opened up to possibilities after high school. I’m hearing them discuss how they want to own a business someday,” said Czernicki.

“As counselors we can give students the tools to lead toward a future, but for them to visualize a future on their own—it makes what we do more meaningful,” Dobro said.

The program is designed to meet once in the fall at Nichols for networking and goal setting, and the students will come back in the spring to learn about the college application process, college interviews, and essays.

“We wanted to expose them to an engaged college culture,” said Shen. “This is all new to them; this is the first time many of the students have been on a college campus.”

Mackenzie Beeso, a Bartlett student and aspiring criminal justice management major, alluded that she plans to apply to Nichols.

“I love this college, it feels homey, and the focus on women leadership is what attracted me,” she said.

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