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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 4, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 1
Update: 59 Baltimore Scholars Now Enrolled in Hometown

JHU's 59 Baltimore Scholars include junior Jessica Turral, from City College; sophomore Burnest Griffin IV, from Poly; and sophomore Sheyna Mikeal, from Dunbar.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Jessica Valdez
Special to The Gazette

Since the inception of its Baltimore Scholars program in 2005, Johns Hopkins has significantly increased its numbers of incoming freshmen from Baltimore City's public schools. The program, which awards full-tuition scholarships to applicants from those schools who are accepted for admission, was initiated to attract more hardworking, high-achieving students from the university's hometown.

As early as 2003, the Admissions Office realized that many students in city schools weren't considering Johns Hopkins when applying to colleges.

"It wasn't that Baltimore wasn't producing intelligent minds," says John Latting, director of undergraduate admissions. "It's just that these students didn't want to come here."

Adds Bill Conley, dean of enrollment and academic services, "These students weren't looking at Hopkins as an option, whether it was their perception it was too expensive or that admission was unattainable. We wanted to develop a program that would tear down those perceptions."

The Baltimore Scholars program now includes 59 students. Many come from the prestigious Baltimore City College and Polytechnic Institute, but other feeder schools include Dunbar and Western.

Junior Jessica Turral said that when she applied in 2005, her own school, City College, was inundated with publicity about the scholarship. But now the program has found a life of its own.

"Baltimore Scholars are in their neighborhoods talking about Hopkins," Conley says. "I think that this outreach is making Hopkins more of a possibility for Baltimore students than it was five years ago."

The program is showing big numerical gains. In 2001, the university admitted only one student from a public city high school; this past spring, 31 of 134 applicants were admitted and 20 have enrolled.

Some Baltimore Scholars have an impact greater than their numbers, as they seek ways to give back to their university and city communities. Led by Turral, a handful of students are working with the Middle Grades Partnership — a Baltimore organization that prepares middle school students to excel in high school — to tutor students and to bring them on visits to the Homewood campus. The goal, Turral says, is to show young students that an elite college like Johns Hopkins could be in their future.

These efforts, Conley says, are key to increasing the applicant pool. "We need to see more students who are qualified for admission to Hopkins," he says. "What that means is that we need more middle school kids learning what they need to take as high school kids to apply to college."

Sophomore Burnest Griffin IV, a Poly graduate, says the program itself is a good motivator to get students interested in learning at a younger age. "I think it's a great way to encourage Baltimore's youth to do better in school early," he says. "Usually college is way too expensive to even consider going."

Turral also has helped found an organization that seeks to get more Johns Hopkins students involved in the city, and to work with middle school and high school students to bridge the achievement gap. She is the chair of ethnic diversity for the group, which is called the Organization for Community Building and Social Change.

Turral says she wasn't always nonprofit-oriented; it was Johns Hopkins and the Baltimore Scholars program that steered her in that direction. Now, when she graduates, she wants to stay in her hometown to start a nonprofit organization instead of practicing corporate law elsewhere.

"Staying here for college and working with all these amazing programs shows me that the heart is really nonprofit," Turral says. "I want to stay until every student in Baltimore City is graduating from college."

The program's funds now come from the university's general financial aid pool, but admissions officers are hoping to find a permanent endowment. The search is being spearheaded by Matthew Crenson, professor of political science and faculty director for the program. As a former Johns Hopkins student from the city himself, Crenson sees the Baltimore Scholars as ambassadors for educating their classmates about the city.

Sophomore Sheyna Mikeal, who went to Dunbar High School, says she has made a point of getting her friends outside the Homewood bubble. "I took my friends all around the city," she says, "and they saw things they would have never known."

In the end, the program may be best summarized by one of its participants. Her goal, Turrel says, is "to show others that there are precious resources in our students from Baltimore City, and to make sure that every student coming [to Johns Hopkins] has someone to talk to, and that this is a place we belong, so in 10 years we can have a Baltimore scholar from every school."


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