Dressed in their uniform of a blue blazer, pressed oxford shirt and red tie, three young high school students walked the University’s campus over this long weekend and admired all it has to offer, setting high goals of one day calling themselves Michigan Wolverines.
University alum George Dong, who now teaches freshman English and public speaking at Urban Prep Academy for Young Men in Chicago through Teach for America, brought three of his students to campus this weekend to expose them to the opportunities available at the University.
The visit had increased significance as it coincided with the weekend dedicated to commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to exploring campus and attending a Michigan men’s basketball game, the students also attended the University’s MLK symposium keynote lecture delivered by Gwen Ifill.
Dr. Marie Ting, program manager for the Center for Education Outreach, arranged lodging, dining and meeting with University mentors during the visit.
This is the first time Dong has brought students to the University. Dong wrote in an e-mail interview that he believes bringing his students to campus is a “concrete and critical step to reverse the current disturbing trend of failure for my students.”
Urban Prep Academy is the first all-boys charter school in the United States geared towards African-American men. Dong wrote in the e-mail interview that he doesn’t want his students to be among the about half of African-American men who drop out of high school.
“I will not allow my students to fall into the trap of negative stereotypes and low expectations,” he wrote. “I intend that all of my students will not only graduate from high school, but also will succeed in college.”
Dong added that he hopes to make this an annual trip.
“I would like to expose them to a world-class research university with a vivid academic atmosphere and a vibrant student community, something completely different from their neighborhood,” he wrote.
Students were chosen for the trip based on a number of criteria, including GPA, academic goals, extracurricular activities and future interest in attending the University. Of the 14 students who applied, freshmen Steven May, Lawrence Mead and Demetreius Russell were accepted.
During their two-day trip to Ann Arbor, the students visited the residence halls, ate in dining halls and toured campus.
When asked what he thought of the University, Steven May said there were two things that he found very interesting.
“The two things I was surprised at was the one club — the squirrel feeding club — and then, that you actually walk across the street whenever you would like,” he said.
Lawrence Mead said the experience at the University was “eye-opening” and very unlike the violent environment he lives in.
“The University of Michigan has one of the most generous vibes I have ever seen, I mean everything, from squirrels all the way up,” he said. “You have people who are there for you. You can literally find help any time you need it. Whatever you want or whatever you need help with, it’s like almost there for you. If you fail college, it’s really your fault.”
Russell said he could also see himself attending the University one day, adding that he plans to “go to college and I will make it to the University of Michigan.”
“I’m loving this school,” he said. “I see that the area around the school and the people they’re very nice. They’re different from our neighborhood.”
Mead said the visit inspired him to work towards his goal of attending college, despite failures in the education system that could make it difficult for him to do so. During an interview, Mead expressed his feelings towards the education system by reciting a poem he wrote.
“The biggest (failure of education) is when a young man or woman does not turn around and help that young boy or girl out of these troublesome times, who does not turn around and say, ‘hey man, stay on track; you can do it’ or ‘you go girl, go ahead and do your thing,'” he said. “So think about it, are you one of those people?”
The students said they appreciated Dong taking them to the University and exposing them to all it has to offer. They called him “one of the best” teachers at their high school, adding that he is “always supportive” and encourages them to get involved with extracurricular activities.