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updated: 7/26/2011 8:39 PM

Harper program helps struggling students prosper

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  • Maria Thompson, director of innovation strategy with Motorola, talks to students at Harper College in a program to bolster first-year student success at the college in Palatine.

       Maria Thompson, director of innovation strategy with Motorola, talks to students at Harper College in a program to bolster first-year student success at the college in Palatine.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Maria Thompson, director of innovation strategy with Motorola, talks to students at Harper College in a program to bolster first-year student success at the college in Palatine.

       Maria Thompson, director of innovation strategy with Motorola, talks to students at Harper College in a program to bolster first-year student success at the college in Palatine.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Maria Thompson, director of innovation strategy with Motorola, passes out materials to Hector Velazquez, left, of Elk Grove Village and Anna Saltzman of Lake Forest before talking to students at Harper College in a program to bolster first-year student success.

       Maria Thompson, director of innovation strategy with Motorola, passes out materials to Hector Velazquez, left, of Elk Grove Village and Anna Saltzman of Lake Forest before talking to students at Harper College in a program to bolster first-year student success.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Harper College Choice Scholars Institute

 
By Jeff Engelhardt

It was the phone call Monika Pasek did not want to receive from Harper College.

Pasek was told she needed to enter Harper's first Choice Scholars Institute program -- a four-week course to help students who were placed in at least one remedial course.

Pasek said when she got that call three years ago, she was concerned entering the program meant she wasn't smart enough to make it in college.

"I was disappointed, but after I met all the people in the program I realized it was worth it," she said.

"It opened a lot of doors for me."

Now, Pasek is helping other incoming freshmen open those doors as a peer mentor for the Choice Scholars Institute. She has a grade-point average above 3.0 and will go to Roosevelt University in the spring in hopes of becoming an elementary schoolteacher.

The program has grown over the three years and this summer includes a partnership with Motorola to emphasize career-building skills.

Maria Thompson, director of innovation strategy at Motorola, gave a presentation to students last Wednesday encouraging them to think outside the box and constantly look for new problems to solve.

The presentation included examples of failures made by Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein as well as a free T-shirt that said "Failure -- the birthplace of brilliance."

"Every problem is an opportunity for invention," she said. "If they laugh at you or think you're nuts that's a good thing."

The message resonated with program participant Eric Nielsen.

The 18-year-old Palatine High School graduate said the four-week experience has been great. He said it is important to question and approach problems differently, especially for someone who wants to be a teacher.

"I want to teach kids, so this really helped me understand different ways to develop and explore new ideas," he said.

Nielsen's writing scores have greatly increased since he joined the program and he was pegged to talk about its merits to the college's board. Another peer mentor, Harper sophomore David Guerrero, said that unlike Pasek, he was excited when he heard of the program.

He was able to improve on a few subjects he scored low on during placement testing, but the biggest benefit was establishing relationships with professors, especially program coordinator Shante Bishop, who provided him help throughout his freshman year, he said.

He plans to pursue a degree in a civil and mechanical engineering at University of Illinois-Chicago. But for now, he said he is happy to help incoming freshmen.

"I like seeing the new students and helping them out," he said.

"They are in the same position I was, so I know how important it is to get help early."

Bishop said nearly all students who have gone through the program have placed in college-level courses, and some have grade-point averages exceeding 3.0.

The addition of Motorola's presentations gives students networking opportunities, access to advice on how to get internships and information on building professional career paths, she said, adding she would like to foster more such partnerships. "It's a winning combination."

When Monica Pasek attended the program, her sister Natalia tagged along. Now as she prepares to start at Harper this fall, Natalia said she already has a great understanding of the campus and a relationship with professors.

"I know it's the summer and people want to be on the beach, but this is so much more productive," the 19-year-old Schaumburg High School graduate said. "It makes you a leader."

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