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KeyBank helps CMSD grads adjust to college

The new KeyBank Scholars program was created to help CMSD graduates get acclimated, persevere and earn degrees at Cleveland State University, and many of the first participants are off to a strong start.

A six-week Summer Transition Enrichment Program, an optional first step in KeyBank Scholars, has attracted 65 incoming freshmen who are taking courses, meeting with advisors and learning how to research subjects.

The university’s goal was to recruit 60 students. CMSD graduates account for half of the freshmen taking part in STEP.

CSU thought the summer program, which ends Friday, would concentrate largely on remedial math and English courses. But many of the CMSD students had already earned college credit during high school and were prepared for bigger challenges.

“A lot of the CMSD students tested into college-ready courses,” said Chrissy Knapke, director of CSU’s Tutoring and Academic Success Center. “That made us go back to the drawing board.”

The university added two math and two English courses to the options. Students also took an Introduction to University Life course and could meet a social-diversity requirement by completing a course titled Anthropology Human Diversity.

Brieonna Hansana ranked sixth in her class at CMSD’s Cleveland Early College High School, which helps kids get a head start on college degrees. She decided not to let up after graduating from high school this year.

“I just wanted to get all my general courses out of the way,” said Brieonna, who aspires to be a computer engineer or accountant. “I just wanted to focus more on what I wanted to do in the future.”

David Tibbitts was an A student at James Ford Rhodes High School but also participated in High-Tech Academy, a program that let him spend half of his day at Cuyahoga Community College. He accumulated 59 credit hours.

David, who is taking the anthropology course this summer, said it has been an “eye-opener.” For example, he was struck by the presentation of race as a social construct, or perception, and not a real thing.

The course “shows a lot of perspectives,” said David, who has not settled on a career but enjoys robotics. “I like a lot of perspectives. Seeing all sides of an idea is very intriguing to me.”

Karina Morales, another Rhodes graduate, said English and writing are strengths of hers, but she hated math in high school and struggled in the subject. She credited a professor, Dustin Reed, and two student instructors with getting her on track for college work in just a few weeks.

Karina plans to study veterinary medicine and operate her own no-kill animal shelter. Running a business would allow her “to be someone who changes my employees’ lives, especially people who have families and small children,” she said.

The summer program helped her make friends, get to know the campus and learn “how to take RTA,” a skill she lacked as someone who always walked to Rhodes.

But the big selling point was the opportunity to take the Introduction to University Life course and earn credit while paying the program’s $100 fee, not $2,700 in tuition for the class.

“Right then and there, I told my mom, ‘I’m doing this,’ ”she said.

Students do not need to enroll in the summer program to participate in KeyBank Scholars, which at last count included 159 new CMSD graduates.

But those who successfully complete STEP qualify for a $250 scholarship to buy books each semester for four years. Students have to meet program requirements, which includes maintaining a 2.5 grade-point average.

The KeyBank Foundation gave Cleveland State University $1 million to fund KeyBank Scholars for four years.

The money will pay for additional support from academic advisors, assistance in obtaining campus jobs, scholarships, instructional support and activities that help the students get to know their peers. Students will meet with their advisors two times each semester to stay on track.

Students could earn up to seven credit hours this summer, which would put them nearly a third of the way to receiving the 24 hours CSU hopes they will complete by the end of the first year.