PennCap Increases Access, Guides Freshmen Through Undergraduate Years at Penn

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820August 6, 2014

Since mid-July, a group of 100 students, part of the incoming undergraduate class of 2018 at the University of Pennsylvania, have been getting an academic jumpstart.

Through the College Achievement Program at Penn, or PennCap, and its Pre-Freshman Program the students receive extra support to smooth their transition to college.

An intensive, academically rigorous four-week summer residential curriculum, the Pre-Freshman Program helps students to adjust to college life and guides them on issues such as like identifying personal priorities, clarifying career objectives, developing budgeting plans and maximizing success at Penn and beyond.

Jointly funded by the University and a federal TRIO Grant, PennCap’s Pre-Freshman Program aligns with the principle of increasing access outlined in President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact 2020

It also encourages the formation of a solid peer network through participation in social and cultural activities. Incoming freshmen get to know “the lay of the land” during the program, learning about Penn’s campus and about Philadelphia.

Staff members from PennCap coordinate student trips to local points of interest, museums, theater and music events, cultural dinners and out-of-town excursions to New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. 

Barbara Biney, a participant in the program from Mountlake Terrace, Wash., plans to double-major in biology and political science at Penn. She says PennCap has given her a chance to be better prepared for college and to make lifelong friends while getting to know the local area.

“On the weekends we engage in off-campus activities that help familiarize us with the city and all that Philadelphia has to offer,” Biney says.  “For example, last weekend we got to explore South Street.”

Raquel Banks, a first-generation college student from Pawtucket, R.I., who also lived in foster care for a time, visited Penn during Quaker Days and says she immediately felt a connection with the University and its people.

Banks plans to major in sociology and says she hopes to learn about the resources available on campus. She credits the program with easing her into college life in other ways, too.

“I absolutely love my classes and all of the friends that I am making here,” says Banks. “PennCap is definitely helping me make the transition. I’m adjusting to living on a different schedule and learning about how college works.”

PennCap students receive counseling, academic assistance and cultural enrichment, allowing them to build confidence and grow to meet personal and educational goals. This support continues throughout their four years at the University.

The Pre-Freshman Program can often be the key to a successful transition,” says Pamela Edwards, the program director. “PennCap counselors and peer counselors help students understand what it takes to be successful by introducing them to the vast array of resources available on campus. This approach not only helps the students understand, early on, that it’s ok to seek assistance, but they also know where to get it.”

Students enrolled in PennCap interact one-on-one with Penn faculty and graduate students; qualify for textbook and laptop loans; take advantage of free tutoring, as well as academic, personal and career counseling; receive summer tuition grants; and are paired with peer counselors, who help them get acclimated to college life during their first year.

“Essentially, PennCap advising services reinforces what the students already receive from their individual schools, whether it’s Engineering, Wharton, the College of Arts & Sciences or Nursing,” Edwards adds.

Banks is already considering law school. In the meantime, she says she’s looking forward to participating in on-campus activities, like possibly writing for The Daily Pennsylvanian, playing bass, staying active with intramural volleyball and becoming a member of a sorority. She believes that her life experiences are very different from that of most Penn students and says she hopes to get involved with the student government to contribute her perspective to its leadership.

She adds she’s grateful for the extra support the program is giving her.

“All of the PennCap staff have been incredible,” Banks says. “The peer counselors are absolutely amazing at their jobs, and they have been so helpful.”