MADISON - Around the office, it's referred to as "The Foundation." For outsiders, it's known as the Summer Collegiate Experience, or SCE.
The eight-week residential program housed in Tripp Hall, which ends this Friday, acclimates select incoming students to life at UW-Madison through two college courses, advising time and a variety of recreational activities.
The program's 130 students are split into five different groups according to their educational interests - social sciences, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), pre-business, pre-professional and undecided. Students are then taught specific degree requirements and how to apply to certain schools and colleges within UW-Madison, says Nick Ewoldt, director of SCE.
"The Foundation" nickname, according to Ewoldt, stems from the old "three R's" education slogan - reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. Students work on reading and writing through a course on critical thinking, and arithmetic through a math preparation course taught at several levels based on placement test scores. Each class counts for credit.
The critical thinking and writing course is a focal point of SCE. Students read classic literature and take a field trip to the American Players Theater in Spring Green, Wisconsin, to see a performance of the play they read for class.
"There are some really good data about students who do well in that course and understand how to construct arguments and essays," Ewoldt says. "Those students transition to the university really well."
The class work is also rigorous. Xai Xiong and Pf'anique Hill, two former SCE students who have now returned to the program as undergraduate house fellows, both agree that the program is challenging. In fact, Xiong says it was the hardest eight weeks of his life, in part due to attending a high school that did not adequately prepare him for the demands of college.
But SCE is not just about the academics. Students live together in University Housing. They eat together. And after eight summer weeks, they develop friendships that last throughout college.
"The main benefit of SCE, from my perspective, is outside of the classroom," Ewoldt says. "The credits that they get are great; the classes that the professors teach are very engaging. Not to take away from that at all, but I think SCE is much more about the connections."
Indeed, Hill and Xiong say the program's social connections were essential as they progressed through college life.
"It just made it easier to know people, coming here not really knowing anybody," says Hill, who is double majoring in early childhood communication and math. "Having those 140-some people that I knew during the summer was great."
Friendships extend beyond fellow SCE students to include advisors as well. Once college begins, students are required to frequently meet with their advisors to ensure they are enrolling in the right classes to fulfill their majors. Later, they are no longer obligated to meet for advising - but often do so anyway.
"It shows that it pays off because even though students aren't required as much to come in, they want to touch base and share their successes," Ewoldt says. "A lot of the students are so grateful for SCE, they want to come back and help in the same ways they were helped along."
Xiong, who is majoring in life sciences communication, was persistent in his quest to become a house fellow. Although his application came up short twice, he eventually succeeded and is now serving as a counselor for a second year.
"There are certain (SCE) house fellows you remember, and there are certain house fellows you don't remember," Xiong says. "The ones you do remember are the ones who impacted you the most - and I want to be that to these students."
While Hill thoroughly enjoyed her time as an SCE student and wanted to relive some of the fun, she also saw being a house fellow as a way of helping her future career.
"I want to be a teacher, so I said, 'Why don't I go and give back to the program that gave me so much, while also taking on this leadership role and trying to help these students transition into one of the hardest universities?'" she says.
Xiong adds that getting to know students from diverse backgrounds is a main perk of being an SCE house fellow.
"This is the primary program that gets students ready for college - regardless of whether you're a minority or first-generation student," he says. "This program sets a good foundation for years to come." ### - Jim Dayton, firstname.lastname@example.org