Come 2019, the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center (BAIC) will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Options Through Education Transitional Summer Program (OTE), a six-week program that takes place over the summer and prepares first-year students for their transition to Boston College by aiming to foster their academic, social, cultural, and spiritual development.
Former University President Rev. J. Donald Monan, S.J., had tasked BAIC with creating a program for students who would be chosen based on academic and financial needs, specifically incoming students of color who displayed excellent leadership and scholarly potential, despite academic or socioeconomic circumstances. Thus, OTE was born, kicking off its inaugural program in the summer of 1979.
The program begins directly after OTE students attend the second summer orientation session in June and concludes in late July. OTE students’ orientation experience is hardly different from that of non-OTE students, the only difference being that students enrolled in OTE stay in Cheverus on Upper Campus, rather than 2150 Commonwealth Ave.
In that time, the roughly 40 students enrolled in the program take four courses, for a total of six university credits, to help acclimate them to the ins and outs of a typical college schedule and workload.
“If you can identify a group of students that are going to be challenged by the status quo at Boston College, you need to help them succeed,” said Joana Maynard, senior assistant director for BAIC. “You need to get them acclimated and get them prepared, both academically and socially.”
Maynard, after arriving at BC in 1985, served as the program’s director for 20 years before stepping down. The current director is Yara A. Cardoso, one of the assistant directors at BAIC.
To be selected as candidates for the OTE program, BAIC looks at prospective students’ applications to the University and examines them based on a rigorous rubric, evaluating their “accomplishments, determination, leadership, talents, and potential in spite of challenging educational and financial circumstances,” according to the OTE website. The accepted applicants are then notified along with their letter of acceptance to BC that they must complete the summer program so that their transition to college can be the best that it can be.
The students are required to take both a mathematics and English class—their placement in each depending on their previous academic history and the level of the classes in which they have enrolled at BC. The courses are supplemented by mandatory study sessions throughout the week, in which professors and peers offer tutoring services.
“The professors were always willing to sit down with you, have a dialogue,” said Ali Soumahoro, an OTE student and MCAS ’22. “Some professors would stay after tutoring ended and continue to help kids out.”
The other classes, workshops, and seminars held throughout the summer focus more on leadership, cultural competency, and understanding the positive and useful aspects about oneself that are not academic in nature, according to Maynard. Instructors also take time to open students up to the various offices and resources around campus that exist to supplement student life.
On weekends, the group embarks on trips to spots around Boston and the rest of Massachusetts. In the past, excursions have included tours of Fenway Park and Martha’s Vineyard, and this past summer concluded with a day trip to Six Flags New England.
The conclusion of the summer, however, does not conclude BAIC’s mission for OTE students.
“Once we’re done with the OTE program, we become advisers to them,” Maynard said. “So that means we follow them, support them, advocate for them, and listen to them.”
Soumahoro said he still goes to the office to sit down with his adviser twice a week. He also lives in the Multicultural Learning Experience community with many fellow OTE graduates, where the community nurtured over the summer, he said, remains just as strong today.
“Over the summer, it was just us on campus—we had to build our own community,” Soumahoro said.
“We were so innocent and naïve,” said Alexis Lopez, another OTE student and CSON ’22. “We were all just together constantly, like always hanging out in Chevy.”
Lopez said he especially appreciated the transitional opportunities that OTE provided, as they pertained to adjusting to campus life. Things like doing laundry and navigating campus were second nature to him come move-in time.
“When you come on campus in the fall, you’re basically ready to flourish,” Lopez said. “You’re set up with a support system, socially and academically.”
Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / For The Heights