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Education News

More Houston-Area Students Gearing Up For College With Their “Squads”

“I think the ideal outcome is that students see each other as a resource.”

For most students in the EMERGE college advising program, this summer's college tour outside of Texas marks the first time they've been outside Texas or on an airplane.
Laura Isensee/Houston Public Media
The college-advising program EMERGE has taken new steps to support students not just to get into selective universities, but to thrive on campus.

About 200 Houston-area students gathered this weekend to gear up for college and form a support network, reflecting a new effort to improve the experience for first generation college students.

The idea emerged from a situation last year, when a Houston student at an elite college in the Pacific Northwest almost turned around and came back home because she felt so lonely. But then her college-advising program EMERGE connected her with two other students on campus who were from Houston and had graduated from local charter schools, YES Prep and KIPP. They bonded and helped each other get through their first year.

Now, EMERGE, YES Prep and KIPP have come together to collaborate and extend this kind of support to more students, with a focus on first generation college students.

“For our students who are coming from first generation, low-income backgrounds landing on a selective college campus can be very overwhelming,” said Felicia Martin, who directs college success initiatives at EMERGE.

“They're not seeing students like them, they're not seeing students with the same background as them, so it can be very isolating pretty quickly.”


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Through the new collaboration, there are now more than 50 “squads” for nearly 200 Houston-area students headed to the same college or out-of-state region, including Brown, Duke and Boston universities.

Since 2010, EMERGE has helped high-achieving students from under-served communities attend selective universities. National research shows that these students are often overlooked by elite colleges and miss out attending them, even though they have the grades and talent to succeed and despite the fact that generous financial packages mean the elite degree would cost them less. EMERGE now partners with several local districts, including Houston, Spring Branch and Spring to support over 1,000 students in high school and more already in college.

Martin said that the new squads reflect the fact that more first generation students are getting access to higher education. But they don't always find the support that they need when they arrive on campus.

“I think the ideal outcome is that students see each other as a resource — someone to be an active listener or bounce ideas off of so they can access resources,” she said.

The model follows an idea from the scholarship program from the Posse Foundation. It sends students from under-represented communities, including from Houston, to partner schools in groups or "posses," including the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M and Trinity University.

Cathy Horn, a professor at the University of Houston, previously told News 88.7 that that the value of that peer support shouldn’t be underestimated.

"One of the important things that we know from research is that your success in college depends a lot on your sense of belonging on the campus you find yourself," Horn said in a previous interview.