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For Some, Seeing Northwestern Is Believing

Select group of high school students explores an overlooked college option.

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August 27, 2008
When it comes to college, some teenagers need to see it before they believe it.

In the case of a select group of Chicago high school students, a day spent exploring the Northwestern campus this summer was a real eye-opener. The visit was part of the Chicago Summer Business Institute (CSBI), a non-profit organization founded in 1991 that provides students internships at some of the city's top companies.

The CSBI encourages low-income, high-achieving Chicago students to explore careers in business while helping prepare them for education beyond high school. The program offers on-the-job training, networking, career seminars and college visits. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has supported the CSBI from the start. Each year he presents the keynote address at the program's graduation ceremony.

The CSBI brought 140 participants to Northwestern in July for a firsthand look at the college experience, something that will come in handy if the students hope to land full-time jobs at firms such as CSBI sponsors Bank of America, Citigroup or UBS, among others.

For the past 10 years, Northwestern has hosted a group from CSBI for a day of activities that includes not only a campus tour but also discussions with current students, admission officials and campus group leaders.

"Although they're good students, many of these kids don't see themselves going to a highly selective college like Northwestern," said CSBI program director Debra Carson. She cited a number of perceived obstacles, such as family income and the neighborhoods from which they come, as reasons why some students might need encouragement.

"Our campus tours, in particular, are great because they make the idea of college real. We don't just hand them a stack of brochures. We bring them to places like Northwestern to show all that's possible at the next level," she said.

Carson estimates roughly 85 percent of CSBI students eventually go on to attend college. And a few enroll at Northwestern. Tiffany Wells, for instance, is a senior in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. She spent two summers with CSBI, interning with JP Morgan Chase, where she met a Northwestern alumnus. Wells, who grew up in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood, learned about the many opportunities available to Northwestern students and liked the emphasis on interdisciplinary studies.

"Northwestern has really expanded my horizons," Wells said. "I came here interested in economics, but I also like art. So I'm majoring in art theory and practice and am in the business institutions program. I'd like to get a job in arts management or museum administration."

Northwestern alumnus and trustee Alex Rorke, a founder of the CSBI, says the annual visit is one of many steps the University takes to promote diversity in its admissions.

"The CSBI is very competitive," Rorke said. "We receive about 400 applications each year from Chicago's achieving inner-city youth. They go through rigorous interviews with prospective employers to be considered for up to 150 summer jobs. Even though the students have high expectations for themselves, I've learned in talking with them that, when it comes to college, many with fine academic records don't think Northwestern would be interested in them. And that's why the campus tour is so important. It shows that Northwestern is thinking about them."
Topics: Neighborhood