Willamette Promise Student Leadership Institute Brings Students to Campus

In partnership with the Willamette Education Service District, WOU hosted the Willamette Promise Student Leadership Institute in August. I interviewed Addie Howell, the Accelerated Learning Manager at Willamette Promise, about the program, and what it aims to do for students.

Ok, big picture: What is the Willamette Promise? What is its mission?

The Willamette Promise is a dual-credit and career and college readiness program. We specialize in university credits, advising, and career-related activities to support students as they work toward their future. Our goal is that all students understand their options and have the skills and knowledge to make independent and informed decisions to support their future.

We offer a variety of dual credit courses transcribed with Western Oregon University (WOU) and Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT). We also partner with industry to help students train for the right path. Our program offers more than 30 dual-credit classes to high school students. Paired with career and college exploration and experiences, we want to make sure that students see the connection to their future in each classroom and every experience.

The Willamette Promise is housed at the Willamette Education Service District and proudly serves more than 55 school districts across Oregon.

What is the Willamette Promise Student Leadership Summit? What is it for? How does this event align with the mission of the program as a whole? 

The Student Leaders Summit was a three-day conference created for students who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in higher education. It was made possible by an Oregon Community Foundation grant of $200,000 from the Oregon Community Recovery Fund that Willamette Promise received in June of 2021. The majority of the students who attended will be first-generation college students. The goal was to create an experience for these students to see that college has a variety of options and to give them the tools and confidence to succeed in their post-secondary pathways. This program aligns with our mission by helping all students have equitable access to higher education and more agency in their post-high school decisions. 

Photo credit: James VanHoose / Creative Asset

How does involvement in Willamette Promise prepare students for college life?

The Willamette Promise helps students prepare for college by allowing them to experience college-level work in a structured and supported environment with high school teachers they trust. Our courses offered through Western give students a risk-free try at college. They can complete the whole class and receive a grade before deciding if they want the credit on their transcripts. This flexibility allows students who would not traditionally envision themselves as college students to gain the confidence to see themselves as college ready. 

The Student Leaders Summit also equipped students with specific tools to help make the transition to life after high school more manageable, including writing a college admission or scholarship essay and study skills.

Who takes part in the program, both in making it happen and the student participants? How are participants selected?

The program hosted 30 high school seniors from across the state of Oregon on Western Oregon’s campus for three days. All of our students identified as students of color, and a majority will be first-generation students. We partnered with eight Western faculty across disciplines to present workshops.  Students were selected via an application process that considered demographic data and student essay responses. We had more than 140 applicants.

Professor Daryl Thomas instructs students at the Student Leaders Summit. Photo credit: James VanHoose / Creative Asset

What do participants do? What’s the structure like?

Each day the students participated in workshops put on by Western faculty to show them different opportunities at Western or teach them skills that they could use in college. Students participated in a study skills workshop, a chemistry workshop, a workshop on utilizing their bicultural identities, a communication workshop, and a goal-setting workshop. On the final day, students participated in a two-hour arts workshop. These workshops were either learning to program drones to dance with them to hip hop, casting a sculpture of their hand, or how to stage fight. We wanted to make sure the students got the most out of their three days while also being mindful that this was the first time a majority of these students sat through a full day of in-person learning in almost a year and a half. Our staff also made sure to build in lots of mind breaks and meals.

What is the problem that this program is trying to solve? What needs of students does it try to meet?

The problem we were trying to solve with this event is to bridge the gap in knowledge that often exists for first-generation college students. We wanted to provide them the tools to have agency in their post-high school plans and feel confident that they have what it takes to succeed in college. In addition, we wanted to help them build a network of their peers going through this same stage of life and adults who could support them. Lastly, we wanted to make sure these students had the technology they needed to succeed in their futures. Each student received a free Macbook for their participation in the program.

This last August was the first annual event. Do you plan to carry on into the future? How might the program change, and how would you like to see it change?

This year was the first of what we hope will be many years of the Student Leaders Summit. We plan on having this be an annual event. I would love to see this event grow in scale and reach even more students. I would also like students to have the opportunity to stay on Western’s campus and experience a college residence hall.

Check out Willamette Promise’s awesome video about the program! If you’d like to learn more about Willamette Promise, visit this link.  


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