High Potential at 40

Brother Camillus Chavez talking with Billy Delgado '09 at the HP anniversary celebration. Delgado is currently studying for his master's degree in counseling at Saint Mary's.  The High Potential Program (HP) turned 40 this year. Founded in 1973 to offer students from underrepresented groups the support and skills they needed to succeed, HP has been remarkably successful in retaining students, with a 95 percent freshman retention rate, compared to 78 percent nationwide. Beginning with 25 students, the program today has 90 students, most of them the first in their families to attend a four-year U.S. college. Tracy Pascua Dea, co-director of the program and director of student engagement and academic success, believes a major challenge for HP students is entering without someone close to them who understands and can describe the experience. Asking for help can be the biggest challenge to the students, Pascua Dea said. But once they do, they discover a wealth of resources at their fingertips.

Pascua Dea affectionately describes the hands-on role the program plays in a student’s academic and personal success as “intrusive advising.” All admitted HP students are invited to attend a Summer Bridge Program that offers a glimpse of college life with classes, academic empowerment sessions, and workshops in personal and academic skills to help them in their first year. They also participate in a First Year Advising Cohort specifically tailored to the experiences of a first-generation student; they meet regularly with a peer mentor and a student engagement and academic success specialist.

“The people who ran the program really cared about you and kept an eye on you all four years,” remembered HP alumna Pravda Wright ’94. The evolution of a student from freshman to senior year is remarkable, said Pascua Dea. “You see the freshmen who are so shy and then the seniors who do all sorts of things, living up to what they set out to do when they arrived on campus.”

Central to the mission of the College is our commitment to our Lasallian traditions and mission to serve the underserved and those in need, said President James Donahue. “The HP program is part of what makes us distinctive. We strive to coordinate what we do with who we are and what we believe is valuable and important. Then we translate that into very specific actions and walk the talk.”

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