The Urban Experience Program (UEP) completed their first year of the Black Excellence Scholars Training (BEST) Program, created to provide academic support and professional development to African American students and empower them with the necessary tools and resources for success.
When UEP started in 1994, its mission was to recruit, retain, and propel African American students towards earning a degree and becoming successful after receiving their undergraduate degree. BEST proves to be the ideal initiative to provide opportunities to change the landscape of black honors programs in higher education that will foster intellectual independence, motivate academically talented students, prepare students for graduate school and professional careers, and promote lifelong learning. It is a two-semester independent and interdisciplinary learning experience open to African American students across all majors.
This program started in the fall of 2017 with 30 freshman, all high-achieving students at their high schools. BEST participants was recruited through the UEP Summer Bridge program, a program designed to assist students with the transition from high school to college. Students participating in BEST are required to attend monthly meetings, complete an academic success plan, maintain a cumulative 3.0 GPA, and complete 10 hours of community service per semester. During monthly meetings, students are informed and encouraged to take advantage of resources, programs and activities that enhance their learning and professional development. Representatives from several on-campus departments came to speak to them about opportunities in their department such as the Office of Undergraduate Research, University Career Services, and the Honors College. Program benefits include mentorship from UH Faculty, educational and social programming, leadership development opportunities, cohort-style peer relationships, and semester stipends.
To evaluate the effectiveness of BEST, participants was asked to complete a survey at the end of the spring semester. The survey assessed their awareness and utilization of on-campus resources, likelihood of attending graduate/professional school, awareness of scholarships and other funding opportunities, and other relevant topics. In addition, BEST scholars was asked if the BEST program improved their first year in college. Here are some of their responses:
“Yes, the BEST program helped me to become more involved on campus and also gave me motivation to perform to the best of my ability academically.”
“Yes. They made it so much easier because they explained everything. They helped me understand that it’s ok to mess up sometimes. That’s the only way you learn.”
“The BEST program has definitely improved my first year in college. In my mind coming to college I would worry if I would know what to do or would find someone to talk that will really understand what I'm going through. This program has provided me a vent where I can be able to just say what's going on. I really needed that.”
“Yes, the BEST Program has drastically improved my first year college experience. By joining BEST I learned how to be more professional and more accountable, and I was very grateful that I was in the same boat as people who are sharing the same experiences and challenges with me…it was like I wasn't alone in this journey.”
When asked to reflect on the survey results and overall program, BEST Program Coordinator, Tajuanda Montreuil stated, “The feedback was very promising and has shown that UEP is on the right track to providing the support these students need to achieve their educational and professional goals”. Ricky Greer, UEP graduate assistant that has been working with BEST scholars since the start of the program, stated “I am pleased that the BEST program intentionally prepares students of color for graduate/professional school and for me that is formidable. These dynamic UH students’ futures are very promising and I am excited to see what they do next!” As a result of the positive feedback, UEP is planning to add a new cohort for the 2019-2020 academic year.