Incoming freshmen get 'running start' at University of Akron


AlRitia Gore of Pickerington, near Columbus, has chosen The University of Akron to help fulfill her dream of one day becoming a biomedical engineer. Interested in science and engineering since first grade, Gore loves to learn about how our bodies heal from injuries and disease. But to get that degree, she has to get through calculus first, and it's been a challenge for the 18-year-old incoming freshman.

AlRitia Gore has made the most of her "running start" on campus this summer as she looks forward to a career in biomedical engineering.

Because UA is committed to STEM education, and math is often an obstacle to a coveted STEM degree, Gore and more than 50 of her peers from all over Ohio have dedicated eight weeks of their summer to live the Akron Experience and learn calculus and college readiness – all before fall semester – through UA's "Running Start" Summer Bridge program.

The reward for these 54 highly motivated UA freshmen-to-be?

Potential scholarship money from the Choose Ohio First Scholarship Program and a leg up on their peers in the pursuit of their goals, says Adam Smith, director of UA's Choose Ohio First-STEM program, which organizes and administers Running Start/Summer Bridge. Running Start allows students to start early on the pathway to a challenging career in the high-demand, high-paying fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

Finding pathway for success

And despite an overall grade point average of 3.4 to 3.6, Smith says that the students attending the Summer Bridge program are STEM students who would not normally enter or continue to be successful in college — students who need financial, academic and moral support — but may not have received enough of it in high school or at home.

"These are not remedial or developmental students, but they are behind in their math preparation as compared to other STEM majors and they need extra help and support," says Smith. "These are students who haven't been provided the necessary tools to pursue STEM careers, many of whom will be the first in their families to go to college. We see it as our job to provide them with the support, education and know-how to get them where the state needs them to be – contributing to Ohio's economy."

The students arrive on campus in early June, live in the residence halls, attend regular classes, share tutors and study together, build the relationships on campus they'll need to succeed, explore everything Akron has to offer and create for themselves a sense of community at UA before their peers arrives in the fall. By the end of the summer, the Running Start students will have earned three or four math credits, and three to four credits from an elective class such as public speaking, English composition or human diversity. Students are also required to take a daily college readiness seminar, often getting the opportunity to meet such inspiring campus leaders as Provost Mike Sherman; Candace Campbell Jackson, vice president and chief of staff to President Luis M. Proenza; and Jim Tressel, vice president for strategic engagement.

A leveraging of resources

UA has partnered with the state of Ohio to provide students with this program free of charge, Smith says. While they're not Choose Ohio First Program scholars, the students attending Running Start have the opportunity to earn anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 in scholarship funding to UA.

In the 2012-2013 academic year, there will be more than 500 Choose Ohio First STEM scholars at The University of Akron, a program that has grown from 27 scholars just four years ago. In fact, UA's comprehensive implementation of the Choose Ohio First scholarship program – it is much more than financial support – has made it a model in the state, Smith says.

The state started the Choose Ohio First scholarship in 2007 to encourage more students to study STEM fields with the ultimate goal of increasing the number and size of science and technology businesses in Ohio. Choose Ohio First is designed to keep talented students in Ohio for their postsecondary education and to encourage and support those that historically have not pursed degrees in STEM fields to do so.

"Running Start is designed to provide real access and readiness to those that want to pursue degrees in a STEM discipline," says Smith. "The University puts an emphasis on STEM education because it's as important as it has ever been to Ohio and to the overall American economy – driving innovation and competitiveness by generating new ideas, new companies and new industries."

'Mom made me go'

While Gore says her mother “made” her enroll in Running Start, she’s very happy she did.

Gore had just finished listening to Tressel’s inspirational talk about important life lessons and extolling the virtues of the hard work it will take for them to succeed in college and beyond when she said she didn’t mind "giving up" much her summer.

The self-proclaimed "Tressel fan" beamed and laughed as she talked about her mom's "ultimatum."

"Yes, my mom told me I was going to enroll in this program, but this has been a great experience," admits Gore. "I’m so glad I came here early. These guys are the best support system – ever," she says of Smith and his staff of academic assistants and peer mentors. "My eyes have been opened up to a whole new world. Because I’m in this program, I’ll have a good chance of finding co-op opportunities in my field, which will give me an even greater view of the world. And what's even better is that I'll be done with my math requirements in my freshman year!"

Once Gore passes Calculus I, which she's taking this summer with the help of UA professors and calculus tutor Joe Johnson, a third-year applied mathematics major from Green, she'll be able to take Calculus II in the fall, long before many of her freshman peers.

Making the most of her 'running start'

"AlRitia could have gone anywhere to school, honestly,” says Smith. "But the main reason she chose Akron was because of this program and our commitment to providing the best STEM education possible."

Smith says it's important to remember that not only does a STEM education improve the earning power of individuals, but the STEM-based environment makes Ohio and its STEM graduates more attractive for businesses and jobs.

"When they finish Summer Bridge, they'll begin their freshman year with ready-made friends from their class, and they'll already have earned mathematics and some general credits, and they'll know the University,” notes Smith. "We believe this will give them a running start to a successful college career and beyond."

Media contact: Laura Massie, 330-972-6476 or