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Porter scholars reflect on experiences

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Posted: Saturday, November 24, 2012 10:00 am

Fifty-nine Stateline Area high school seniors are going to be at an advantage when they move into their freshman dormitories next fall.

With its largest class ever, Beloit College’s Porter Scholar program is doing its part in readying high school students for higher education. The program invites top seniors from area high schools such as Beloit Memorial, Beloit Turner, and Hononegah, to take a class at the college free of charge.

“The purpose is for students to have an opportunity for an academic challenge that they might not have at their high schools,” said Kate Virgo, Assistant Director of Admissions at Beloit College.

One of this semester’s Porter Scholar program participants is Beloit Memorial High School senior Mike Cummins, who currently is enrolled in Organic Chemistry.

“I’ve taken as many chemistry courses as I could at the high school, but I wanted to keep going,” he said.

Cummins hopes to be a chemical engineer after finishing his studies and believes that the program is a great stepping stone for himself and other students.

“It gives you the experience of college when you’re in high school. It helps you prepare and it’s a way to get ahead,” Cummins said. “Unlike an AP test, it’s an actual college course.”

Beloit College Assistant Professor of Modern Languages and Literature Olga Ogurtsova has served as the Faculty Advisor to Porter Scholars for seven years and considers herself fortunate for the privilege.

“All of the faculty members at Beloit College look forward to having them in their classes. They are highly motivated and the best students from their classes,” Ogurtsova said.

Beloit Turner’s Gabriela Gagula is another senior reaping the benefits of the Porter Scholar program. Gagula is studying the European Union at the college currently, but is undecided on the career path she hopes to pursue.

“I decided that the European Union course would be interesting to me as I am European myself,” Gagula said. “I’m of Bosnian heritage and was born in Germany. My family and I moved to the United States when I was 4.”

Gagula agrees with Cummins that the Porter Scholar program is a valuable asset to students such as herself in regard to introduction to higher education.

“College is definitely more difficult than high school. At college, the student body is more mature. Everyone is present because they want to be there and they want to learn. The work load is much more dense than high school,” Gagula said.

Hononegah High School’s Clairanne Porter believes that being a Porter Scholar at Beloit College is a perfect bridge between high school and college.

“I think it is good to have this program at Beloit College because the classes are smaller and your professors are more available to help you,” Porter said.

Virgo concurs with Porter’s assessment, citing small class sizes and faculty availability as strengths of Beloit College.

“I think it could certainly help. A student that is not familiar with college might find the system a little bit easier to navigate here,” Virgo said. “It’s a step up in the academic demand so it helps that the faculty here are very accessible.”

Porter is currently enrolled in Journalism at Beloit College, having had desires in the past to become a journalist. Porter has since changed her career aspiration to the field of criminal law.

“I want to be a criminal prosecutor,” Porter said. “So I’ve got plenty of school to go.”

Porter said that her class has met her expectations in terms of challenges and required effort and that the college has impressed her, although its lack of a Criminal Justice program removes the possibility of her attending it next year.

“I would be very interested in the college, but they don’t have a criminal justice program. Otherwise I would be,” Porter said.

Virgo said that there is no clear correlation among students who participate as Porter Scholars regarding whether or not they go on to attend Beloit College, but noted that there are benefits for the students.

“If the students earn a B or better in their course at Beloit and then enroll at Beloit as degree-seeking students, they get an additional $5,000 a year of scholarship money,” Virgo said.

During her seven years with the program, Ogurtsova, despite conceding that Virgo would know better, believes the percentage of Porter Scholars who go on to attend classes Beloit College has increased, also citing benefits to the participants of the program.

“They don’t have to apply to Beloit College if they are a Porter Scholar, they only need to write one more essay. They don’t have to pay application fees either,” Ogurtsova said.

Regardless of whether they plan to leave the area next summer, as Cummins says he will, to pursue a larger chemistry department, or are considering sticking around, like Gagula, or might rather stay despite it being necessary to go, like Porter, it is clear that the program has achieved its goals.

“I think it has definitely prepared me for college,” Porter said.

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