In the fall of 2021, nine DREAM Charter High School students arrived in East Harlem for an information session with the Rochester Institute of Technology. In partnership with DREAM board member Don Truesdale, now the former Chairman of RIT’s Board of Trustees, the university was in the initial stages of developing a pilot “cohort” program, one where a pair of students from DCHS could attend RIT together, and support one another throughout their college journeys.
The group of then-seniors who showed for the RIT information session—Deon Jeffrey, Emanuel Binett, Jaden Bright, Kelvin Arredondo, Mamadou Ndiaye, Nasir West, Zakaria Sakhi, Abdul Tariq Macauley, and Victor Sanchez—were starting their college application processes, and wanted to learn more about what the upstate school had to offer. What no one expected was that the routine information session would spark an opportunity of a lifetime for all of them.
“I’ve never been in a room with high school students who had such dignity and respect for the process,” said Ian Mortimer, Vice President of Enrollment at RIT. “They were very curious about programs, culture, experience. They were very well prepared in terms of how they’re thinking about their futures—and I was completely blown away.”
Mortimer knew very quickly that he wanted all nine of the DREAM students to attend RIT. But exactly how to make that happen would require reworking and expanding the cohort idea, creating a formal partnership with DREAM, and enlisting resources from the organization’s long-established post-secondary support programming. Between RIT, DREAM, and Truesdale, a plan was created to not only provide financial assistance for each of the nine students, but to also provide them with the academic, social, and personal support they would need to thrive and graduate.
“Both parties were very aligned that the goal of this cohort is college completion,” said Katie Doctor, DREAM’s Managing Director of Educational Strategy & Data. “We wanted to design this program in a way that really maximizes student success.”
In partnering with RIT, supports are enhanced for the nine cohort students, a template that could become part of DREAM’s long-term plans for post-secondary success.
A formal partnership with a college like RIT, which has a co-op structure that emphasizes college completion and job attainment, felt like the natural next step in DREAM’s work to ensure all students can fulfill their vision of success. More than a decade ago, DREAM founded its Legends Fellows program to support former Harlem RBI participants as they embarked on their post-high school pathways. For six years after graduation, this program provides resources like campus visits, care packages, academic assistance, financial aid, career networking, and mentorship to the college-aged students it serves. Since the founding of DREAM Charter High School in 2017, the program now works with school staff to provide support for scholars to and through college, and in the past year, DREAM has piloted “Close the Gap,” a formulaic approach to finding and funding students’ “best fit” college choices.
In partnering with RIT, these supports are enhanced for the nine cohort students, a template that could become part of DREAM’s long-term plans for post-secondary success. Not only will the cohort have dedicated advisors and program coordinators from both the university and the Legends Fellows program, but they will also be attending a summer bridge program—a chance for them to get their feet wet with college coursework and get used to living on campus—and will spend their first year of college in RIT’s School of Individualized Study, where they can use a STEM-focused curriculum to learn more about what they’d like their focus to be. What’s more, each student will receive a full scholarship for each year at RIT, backed by generous funding from RIT, DREAM, and Truesdale.
“To be able to help nine young men get a really cool opportunity, in an environment where you can feel the love and support from DREAM and from RIT, was an outcome I couldn’t have imagined,” said Truesdale.
Just before DCHS’ graduation on June 23, the DREAM and RIT communities came together in East Harlem to celebrate this partnership, and the successes already achieved by the soon-to-be cohort students and their families. Charting a new course for the organization, the students look forward to embarking on the next step in their futures.
“One of the things I try to get them to understand is the importance of the legacy that they’re starting,” said Mo Ferreras, Assistant Director of Admissions at RIT and also a former New York City charter school student. “I want them to leave an imprint on RIT itself. They’re already a team, a community. I want them to come on campus and have people say ‘oh, those are the DREAM students.’”