Inner-city students get a taste of college life

by Charles Davant | 8/6/96 5:00am

Most people seem to want to go to New York City to try new things, but a few people from the Big Apple choseinstead to come to Hanover to broaden their horizons and see the stars.

Seven students from a Manhattan high school spent this weekend at the College, where they saw the stars and a whole lot more.

The students, who go to school in the inner city, went to College classes, paddled on the Connecticut River and gazed at the stars with an astronomy professor.

The students came with a program started by a Dartmouth alumnus, Michael Stern '59, and they were accompanied by a recent alumna, Jen Frontera '96.

Stern, the C.E.O. of Stern's Fragrances, created the Youth Employment Summer program, which helps inner-city teenagers get internships during their vacation terms.

Students typically work for businesses such as Gucci, Avon Cosmetics, Calvin Klein and brokerage firms like Marsh McLennin.

Frontera said one of the students who visited Dartmouth is working for an accounting firm, where she is responsible for supermodel Christie Brinkley's records.

Taniese Brown, a participant in the program, said the program "is a lifesaver in some ways. It will keep you off the streets, where it is easy for you to get in trouble."

Katrina Blackman said the program has helped her as well.

"It teaches us about corporate America," she said. "Now we know how it will be when we have to wear those suits."

For each of the past five years, a few of the students have come to Dartmouth to find out what college life is really like.

"We wanted to expose these youngsters to a college atmosphere outside of an urban area," Stern said. "We hope that they gain a better understanding of what a college academic program consists of."

"What we are trying to do is show them that if they do achieve certain academic standards, this is available to them," he said. "They should shoot high and not shoot low."

Frontera said the students run the risk of following less-than-ideal paths unless they learn what opportunities are available to them.

"Some of them were going to go to a two-year college in Brooklyn. A lot of them are worried about their mothers," she said. "Without the experience of going to a college, they don't know what they are missing."

The students, who returned to New York this morning, slept in Cutter-Shabazz Hall and ate in Full Fare during their stay at the College. Frontera said it was amazing to see their reaction to the rural environment.

"They are afraid of the dogs. They ask 'Where are the skunks?'" Frontera said.

"If it is dark out, they are scared," she said. She noted the irony of the situation -- the students are accustomed to walking the dangerous streets of Brooklyn, N.Y. at night, but "they come to New Hampshire and are scared because it is dark."

The group's four-day experience was packed.

The students toured the campus, went to a chemistry class, visited the Women's Resource Center, met with a playwright from the New York Theatre Workshop and went to a party at Shabazz. And that was only part of their itinerary.

Kristina Henry, a participant in the program, said her favorite part of the visit was the trip to Dartmouth's observatory with Astronomy Professor Robert Fesen.

"I'd never seen the stars before," she said. "And the air here is cleaner and less congested."

Henry said her hosts at Shabazz were wonderful.

"They related to us," she said. Many of the hosts "are from New York."

Henry said she enjoyed meeting with Assistant Dean of Student Life Sylvia Langford.

"We talked about prejudice on campus, and everything else," she said.

Frontera said, "It was an interesting conversation. They asked questions like 'How come you don't consider yourself German or Italian?'"

The students said college looks like a more attractive option than they anticipated. But, they said, it can also be scary.

Blackman said the organic chemistry class she visited was so boring, it scared her. "You have to work hard to keep up," she said.

The group also met with Assistant Director of Admissions Maggie Chang to discuss college admissions.

Chang said the group was "eager and excited to be here. I hope they got as much as they could out of their four days here."

David Lee '98, who helped Frontera "fill in the gaps" in the group's schedule, said he tried to find activities that show aspects of Dartmouth not covered in the other activities. Lee was also a member of a panel that met with the group to discuss college life.

Lee said the students asked questions like, "Is the work at Dartmouth hard," "Were you wary of other people when you got here," "Why did you pick Dartmouth" and "What did it take to get in?"

Lee also spearheaded an effort to involve the community in the group's visit.

"I went through the community trying to get support and to somehow raise awareness," he said. Lee said Big Green Ts, the Dirt Cowboy Cafe, Everything But Anchovies restaurant and the Hanover Green Card contributed to the production of t-shirts memorializing the visit.

Lee said he hopes the t-shirt will make other students involved in the New York City program eager to visit Dartmouth.