PITTSFIELD — A new course load, a new freedom, more responsibilities and making decisions on you own — going to college can be both an exciting and challenging experience.
"Just remember, for the most part, everyone who makes the decision to go to college is stepping onto a campus for the first time," said Dustin Burdette to a group of students enrolled in the new MCLA/BCC Dual Enrollment Summer Academy.
The pilot five-week summer immersion program launched last week as a result of a partnership between Berkshire Community College, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Program and the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.
Burdette is the program's site coordinator and support staff member for the nine students enrolled from central and northern Berkshire County. Last week, Burdette, along with BCC Director of Development and Transition Programs Louise Hurwitz; BCC Multicultural Admissions Couselor Eleanore Velez, and MCLA Associate Director of Admission Joshua Mendel, led the group of recent high school graduates through a week of orientation, workshops and field trips.
The tuition-free program is designed to give participating students a boost in confidence in continuing their education, by giving them a chance to learn about study skills, time and financial management, while taking two core academic English and math classes — starting this week — to earn credits towards college. Students were also offered the chance to take up paid summer internships.
So what makes giving up a month of summer before college worth it? All those who finish the program, which runs through Aug. 5, will have earned six credits and have a solid head start when college classes officially begin this fall.
To give them an introduction to college, the Summer Academy students had the chance to meet with three local residents and college students: BCC's Tyrone Keels, and MCLA sophomores Belinda Boateng and Drew Burdick.
The three urged their younger peers to explore all their campus will have to offer, by introducing themselves to new people; joining campus activities and student organizations; and asking their professors for academic help and advice when needed. They also told students that there are additional support systems on campus, like tutoring and mentoring programs, and services for first-generation college students.
The three also described their initial college experiences and lessons learned.
"For me, it was very scary," said Boateng, who described herself as a quiet person. "But you have to get yourself out."
"The first year's not going to be easy," Keels said. "I took the first semester to adjust. I had to learn a lot about myself that year, which was exciting and scary too."
Burdick said he had to learn a lot about goal-setting and time management.
"Yes, you'll struggle, but then you just get back up and you plan," he said."