Project Lighthouse holds campus day to encourage education opportunities for students in underserved communities

Sunday, April 14, 2019 - 7:34pm

Posters, flyers, and buttons are set out for inner-city Detroit high school students in preparation for Project Lighthouse Campus Day Event at the League Friday afternoon.

Posters, flyers, and buttons are set out for inner-city Detroit high school students in preparation for Project Lighthouse Campus Day Event at the League Friday afternoon. Buy this photo
Allison Engkvist/Daily

On Friday morning, almost 50 high school students from Lincoln High School and Enterprise High School in Warren visited the University of Michigan campus for an all-inclusive college experience, as part of Project Lighthouse’s campus day program. Project Lighthouse is an organization that visits Lincoln and Enterprise weekly during the semester to host professional development workshops on topics including college applications, financial aid and writing personal statements.  

Project Lighthouse was started by Dr. Marie Ting in 1994 when she was an undergraduate at the University. Along with founding Project Lighthouse, she worked to unite Asian organizations under the umbrella student group United Asian American Organizations, which is still active on campus today. She currently serves as the associate director at the University’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.

Ting wrote about the background of Project Lighthouse in an email interview with The Daily.

“Project Lighthouse was created because U-M Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) students recognized the fact that there was a significant Southeast Asian American Community,” Ting wrote. “In particular, Hmong Americans in the metro Detroit area who were experiencing a number of challenges related to college access and postsecondary degree attainment.”

Ting believes the program broadened understandings of the educational and economic disparities facing various groups — and in her personal experience, the APIA community. She hopes the program encourages students to think about ways to address these disparities in their studies and careers going forward.

“Upon some reflection, years later, I will say that the U-M student leaders who participated in Project Lighthouse probably got as much out of the program as the pre-college students,” Ting wrote.

The campus day began with a walking tour of the University campus, and then moved to the Michigan League for an informal college resource fair. The fair hosted numerous organizations on campus: First Year Experience, LSA Opportunity Hub, MRADS (Michigan Research and Discovery Scholars), the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Spectrum Center.

After the tour, Project Lighthouse introduced Anthony Webster, a Career and Technical Education specialist at Washtenaw Community College. Webster discussed his educational background with the students, which included being a first-generation college student with a master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University. He then talked about his experience working as a former University of Michigan admissions counselor, and his transition to community college counseling to help students experiencing financial or educational barriers.

Webster highlighted the benefits of a two-year college and CTE programs, such as welding, auto-body work, and culinary arts.

“(Two-year college) was a different lens for me,” Webster said. “I realized that this is college. This isn’t a traditional college that I’m used to, but this is college. These students are coming here and gaining skills and establishing careers. The opportunities available to you are limitless.”

After Webster’s lecture, three student performance groups entertained the audience: the Compulsive Lyres acapella group, Maize Mirchi acapella group and Michigan Magic. The students then split by high school and were paired with college student lunch buddies — Michigan students involved in various majors and student groups.

Mary Diop, a junior from Lincoln High School, shared her positive experience with Project Lighthouse with The Daily before heading to lunch.

“I just like talking about colleges and stuff, since we never used to have that,” Diop said. “I didn’t know where I was going (before Project Lighthouse), but now I do.”

Project Lighthouse’s workshops and campus day would not have been possible without Alesha Kotian, the organization’s president. Kotian, an LSA senior, started working with Project Lighthouse in her sophomore year, and has been heavily involved ever since.

Kotian visits the two high schools every week — on Mondays she visits Lincoln, and on Fridays she visits Enterprise. Due to scheduling conflicts, she only has help from the rest of the Project Lighthouse team on Fridays.

“I feel very lucky, since I’ve been able to interact with all the students,” Kotian said. “They are just amazing. They love the program, which is why they keep coming back year after year. They are always so receptive to everything we have.”

Kotian credits her skills in teaching and mentoring to Project Lighthouse, and mentioned how the organization helped her grow internally and externally. Next year, she will be teaching English in Spain as part of the Fulbright Scholars Program.

“I really like the opportunity to engage with professional development in underserved areas,” Kotian said. “It’s been a really informative experience, and I’m excited to see where it goes — there’s always room for expansion.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article quoted Ting as saying "among Americans in the metro Detroit area who were experiencing a number of challenges"; however, she actually said "Hmong Americans in the metro Detroit area who were experiencing a number of challenges." A previous version also said "Michigan Resource and Discovery Scholars" instead of the correct name, "Michigan Research and Discovery scholars.