By Calmetta Coleman
Seven years after Victor Scotti graduated from high school, three things still stand out for him about his experience in the University of Chicago’s Collegiate Scholars Program. The first, and perhaps most significant, is the exposure the program gave him to other cultures.
Along with academic preparation, the three-year college readiness program offers enrichment activities that promote cultural awareness, as well as civic engagement and leadership.
As an African-American student at Morgan Park High School on Chicago’s South Side, Scotti had grown up and attended school primarily with people who were like him and his family. Through Collegiate Scholars, he met other high school students, college students, and UChicago faculty and staff who were from different backgrounds.
“Because Collegiate Scholars was not as homogenous as my home environment, it helped prepare me for the larger world and more diverse experiences,” says the 25-year-old Scotti, who took part in the program from 2006 to 2009.
“One event I will always remember is a Ramadan dinner that Collegiate Scholars were invited to attend. I took my mother, and it was just an amazing experience,” Scotti, a Christian, says of the Muslim observance. “I always enjoyed the cultural events, but I can’t say that I completely understood the value of them then. I realize now that it wasn’t just entertainment. I was really expanding my purview and my perspectives and becoming a more open and affirming person.”
The second thing that stands out is the college coursework. During the summer, Collegiate Scholars live in residence halls on campus and take classes led by UChicago faculty. Scotti took two college-level psychology courses.
“I was nervous, but it was an excellent opportunity and I ended up doing well,” he recalls. “I was even able to get credit for at least one of the courses when I actually went off to college.”
The third standout experience is what Scotti calls a college boot camp that included tours of East Coast colleges and coaching on completing applications for admission and financial aid.
“I knew that I was going to college,” says Scotti, whose parents and grandparents are college educated. “What Collegiate Scholars did was help me put some structure around the process of applying and getting accepted. We had to be extremely organized.”
He adds, “We wrote our whole personal statement so that it was ready to go. I went into my senior year of high school knowing that most of the application was done.”
It was also through Collegiate Scholars that Scotti first learned about the University of Pennsylvania and had the opportunity to visit the school’s campus.
“One thing I really valued was the introduction to colleges outside of ones I had been thinking about,” says Scotti, who applied and was accepted to UPenn, where he majored in sociology. “Collegiate Scholars provided my first touch point to UPenn, and if it wasn’t for the program, I probably would not have gone there.”
After graduating from college in 2013, Scotti now lives in New York and works as a diversity engagement specialist in the People Operations department for Google. He says both his college education and his experiences as a Collegiate Scholar have been helpful in helping him understand and work with different groups of people.
Scotti keeps in touch with the Collegiate Scholars staff at UChicago and with friends he made through the program. This has been especially important, he says, because after he left Chicago to attend college, he realized that some people had negative perceptions of students who attended public schools in the city.
“Knowing that I have this cohort of Chicago Public Schools students whom I got to know through Collegiate Scholars and who are doing impressive things, I think is amazing,” Scotti says, “I’m really proud of that.”