In the spring of 2011, a few weeks after he had accepted an offer of admission to Case Western Reserve, Terrence Mathis (CWR ‘16) opened a letter from a faculty member he had never met.
Stephen Haynesworth (GRS ‘87), an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, had written to congratulate Mathis and assure him that he had made the right decision. “When we at CWRU admitted you to the university,” Haynesworth told him, “we demonstrated our respect for your achievements and our confidence that you can succeed here.”
The letter was more than a welcoming gesture, however; it was also an invitation. Haynesworth encouraged Mathis to apply to the college’s Emerging Scholars Program. As a new ESP student, Mathis would participate in a summer bridge session, taking math and writing courses and attending workshops on topics including time management, study strategies and ways to build mentoring relationships with his professors. He would become familiar with the campus centers and offices that help students cope with the demands of college life, interacting with staff members in such areas as multicultural affairs, academic support, financial aid, counseling services and post-graduation planning. And once he returned for the fall semester, he would receive intensive academic advising as well as assistance with any difficulties he might encounter.
ESP, Haynesworth wrote, “is the kind of program that I wish had been available to me as I prepared to enter college after graduating from Shaw High School in East Cleveland.”
To Mathis, who was about to graduate from Shaw himself, the opportunity sounded especially appealing. He was no stranger to the university; Mathis had been active in Polymer Envoys, a pre-college program at the Case School of Engineering. But he knew that as an undergraduate majoring in mechanical engineering, he was going to face challenges, and he sensed that ESP could help see him through.
Indeed it did. A month after Mathis received the letter, he and 11 other entering students from Cleveland-area high schools gathered on campus for the six-week summer session. They arrived with a variety of intended majors and career goals; even though ESP is administered and funded by the College of Arts and Sciences, it is open to undergraduates in any field, including engineering, management or nursing. Still, the students all had one thing in common: They had committed themselves to working hard, working smart and strengthening their academic foundation. Added together, these strategies would lead to academic excellence. It’s what Haynesworth calls the Success Equation.
By the end of the summer, Mathis and his classmates had gotten to know both Haynesworth and the program coordinator, Arthur Evenchik, assistant to the dean for special projects in the College of Arts and Sciences. The two became Mathis’ allies for the rest of his undergraduate career. “Throughout my time at the university, I was always able to meet with them,” Mathis says. “They checked up on me.”
During his first semester, Haynesworth and Evenchik arranged for Mathis to receive extra tutoring in chemistry, a subject he hadn’t taken in high school. Later, they advised him to spread out his classes over nine semesters instead of trying to complete all of his requirements in four years. Whenever Mathis emailed one of his professors, he copied Haynesworth, figuring that would get him a quicker response. He was right.
Mathis earned his bachelor’s degree in December 2016 and became a product engineer at PMI Industries, a Cleveland firm specializing in custom subsea cable protection and terminations. Later this year, he is planning to take the first of two exams required for licensure as a professional engineer.
“I don’t know if I would have finished at CWRU if it weren’t for the Emerging Scholars Program,” Mathis says. “I had a lot of support, which was very encouraging, especially when going through tough times. ESP helps you develop the character you need to handle whatever you have to face, and to be successful at the next level. It’s been one of my best experiences ever.”
Mathis’ experience in ESP is part of a larger success story. Since its inception in 2011, the program has served almost 100 CWRU undergraduates, many of them from urban high schools that don’t provide the kinds of opportunities available in more affluent settings. Most participants are first-generation college students. And yet, their retention and graduation rates are extraordinarily high.
From 2011 to 2017, for example, 98% of ESP students completed their first year at the university and returned for their second year, compared to 93% of non-ESP students.
Of the ESP students who entered the university between 2011 and 2014, 90% have graduated, compared to 80% of all students who entered the university during the same period.
The data on underrepresented minority students reveals an even larger “ESP advantage.” Of the underrepresented students who entered the program between 2011 and 2014, 89% have graduated, compared to 69% of those who weren’t in ESP.
Just as important, ESP students have flourished after they graduate. As of fall 2019, for example, 12 alumni of the program will be enrolled in graduate or professional schools, and one will have graduated from the CWRU School of Medicine. Five ESP alumni are registered nurses; five others are working in research or administrative positions in medical or public health settings. Eight ESP alumni are employed as engineers or computer scientists, working at firms such as Amazon, Twitter, Nissan Motor Corp., Sherwin-Williams, OverDrive and Zimmer Biomet, a major bioengineering company.
Several of these ESP graduates are still in touch with Haynesworth and Evenchik, who have helped them with job searches, coached them while they were applying to doctoral programs or advised them as their career goals evolved. Both current ESP students and alumni are lucky to have such mentors in their lives, says Michael Mason, director of student advancement at Case Western Reserve.
“Steve and Arthur are genuinely able to demonstrate concern and care,” Mason explains. “That’s what seems to make the biggest difference. Students feel that, and it keeps them connected.”
When Haynesworth founded ESP, he already had nearly 20 years of experience teaching and advising students at Case Western Reserve. An associate professor of biology as well as a college administrator, he earned his doctorate from the university and joined the faculty in 1992. In his research, Haynesworth has advanced scientific understanding of human mesenchymal stem cells—bone marrow-derived cells that have the potential to differentiate into a variety of skeletal cells. His work in this field has generated more than a dozen patents and more than 30 peer-reviewed articles. It also led him to co-found a biotechnology company, Osiris Therapeutics, where he served as a director and consultant.
Haynesworth rarely discusses his professional achievements with the ESP students, but he does let them know about his struggles as an undergraduate. He attended Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, and during his first year, he didn’t earn the grades that his record at Shaw High School had led him to expect. As a result, he had to develop the Success Equation for himself. Haynesworth says that he spent so much time at the tutoring center, he eventually became its student director. He forged connections with professors and listened to their advice. And gradually, he began performing at the level he knew he was capable of.
To Haynesworth, ESP’s most urgent task is to teach students to ask for help, and to create a supportive environment in which they feel comfortable doing so. Before he launched the program, colleagues told him stories about undergraduates—especially those from disadvantaged educational backgrounds—who would “suffer in silence” if they failed an exam during their first semester. Instead of meeting with their professors or confiding in their advisors, these students would lie low. By the time midterm reports came out, they would be so far behind, and so demoralized, that it was too late to intervene.
Nichola Bomani (CWR ‘19), an Emerging Scholar since 2015, graduated cum laude this May, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Spanish (with honors) and a second degree in biochemistry. She came to the university as a recipient of an exceptionally generous scholarship established by the Joan C. Edwards Charitable Foundation, an early supporter of ESP. Edwards Scholars are graduates of Cleveland public schools who plan to become doctors in underserved communities; the scholarship funds their undergraduate education at Case Western Reserve and their subsequent studies at the CWRU School of Medicine. Yet even these outstanding students know what it’s like to experience an academic setback.
“Coming from the inner city of Cleveland, you feel like you have the weight of the whole community on your shoulders,” says Bomani, who earned her high school diploma at the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine at John Hay. “If you feel stuck in class, you’re probably not going to go to office hours or go to a tutor right away. It’s seen as a sign of weakness.”
A D grade on her first calculus exam caused Bomani to realize she needed to overcome that stigma. Drawing on advice she had heard during ESP’s summer bridge session, Bomani began visiting all of her professors on a weekly basis, and continued this practice through her first and second years. She also availed herself of Haynesworth’s expertise, meeting with him regularly while she was taking a course on cells and proteins.
Bomani also benefited from—and contributed to—ESP’s peer support network. She formed close friendships through the program, and she made a point of attending monthly ESP dinners that Haynesworth and Evenchik hold during the fall and spring semesters. She wanted to meet the students who had entered the program after she did and offer them guidance and encouragement. Being in ESP, she says, “is like having family at school, even if your real family is just down the street.”
Because of her deep involvement in the program, Bomani has heard the Success Equation many times, and she confesses that she used to get tired of it. But as she prepares to begin her medical studies, she says: “I super appreciate it now.”
Participating in ESP affects students in ways they may not have anticipated when they signed up for the program. For example, they often express appreciation for the assistance Haynesworth and Evenchik have given them in finding internships or job opportunities.
Amber Strickland (CWR ’15), who earned a bachelor of science in nursing, recalls that as she was finishing her first year of college, she told Evenchik that she would be going back to the summer job she’d had in high school, working at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. He suggested that she acquire some professional experience instead. Taking this advice to heart, Strickland spent that summer and the next caring for elderly patients at Menorah Park in Beachwood, and then became a per diem nurse at University Hospitals (UH), closer to campus.
Today, Strickland is a clinical nurse in the medical oncology and hematology unit at UH Seidman Cancer Center. A year ago, she reached out to Evenchik when she was thinking of pursuing a graduate degree. “If I didn’t have the Emerging Scholars Program, I think it would have been hard to figure out who I needed to talk to,” she says. “It helped me decide where to go next in my career and not just remain at a standstill.”
Other students say that ESP influenced their choice of major. Jaad Quraan, an alumnus of James F. Rhodes High School in Cleveland, came to the university intending to study engineering. But he started having second thoughts during the ESP summer bridge session. While taking precalculus, he realized that he wasn’t as fond of math as an engineering major needed to be. Also that summer, Quraan took an online talent assessment in a workshop conducted by Leah Shaw, associate director in the Office of Student Activities and Leadership. The results indicated that his strengths were more aligned with the health sciences.
With assistance from Mason, Quraan decided to rework his entire fall schedule. He soon became a biology major and chose Haynesworth as his advisor. Once he graduates, he plans to earn an advanced degree in physical therapy.
Kristina Bowdrie (CWR ’17), now a graduate student in audiology at The Ohio State University, says that ESP gave her confidence and a sense of belonging when she came to CWRU from Euclid High School in 2013.
During that first summer, Bowdrie recalls, she and her fellow ESP students were together five days a week. “We had no choice but to get to know each other,” she says. “And that put us in a position to feel comfortable trusting each other. We had people to work through assignments with, and to decompress and have a good time with.”
So strong was the bond among Bowdrie and the other Emerging Scholars in her class that they formed study groups together despite having different majors. “We supported each other and kept each other accountable.”
Bowdrie went on to earn degrees in psychology and communication sciences, and now she is one-third of the way through a challenging doctoral program. This past March, she received an award from the American Academy of Audiology for excellence in student research.
“ESP helped me develop everything I needed to be successful at Case Western Reserve, and after,” Bowdrie says. “It’s been so valuable to me.”
Angela Townsend is a Cleveland-based writer. This article was edited by Lisa Chiu (CWR ‘93), the college’s director of marketing and communications.
After this article was originally published, we discovered errors in our calculation of graduation rates for ESP and non-ESP students. Some of the figures we cited were off by 1-2 percentage points. The errors, which we regret, have been corrected above.
The Emerging Scholars Program is grateful to the growing number of foundations, corporations and individuals who give generously to ensure that its participants have every opportunity to achieve their potential at Case Western Reserve University. ESP’s results are clear, and the impact of these gifts is immeasurable. Annual contributions currently fund about 1/4 of the program’s cost, and the university seeks to fully endow ESP at $6 million to secure its future.
For more information about contributing to the Emerging Scholars Program or creating an endowed fund, please contact Clarke Leslie, associate dean for development and external affairs, at 216.368.5322.
The Emerging Scholars Program was launched in 2011 with support from:
The Joan C. Edwards Charitable Foundation
Annual Support, 2018-19
The following donors have made a gift of $1,000 or more during the current fiscal year:
Richard S. Campen (MGT ’73)
The George W. Codrington Charitable Foundation
Thalia Dorwick (FSM ’66, GRS ’73)
Nancy Bush Gassler (GRS ’67)
Malcolm H. Gissen (ADL ’65)
Marian A. Gruber (WRC ’74) and Walter G. Montgomery, PhD
Clarke W. Leslie
Bryant S. Mason (ADL ’70)
Harold D. McRae (ADL ’65)
Mario M. (CLC ’67) and Dana (FSM ’68) Morino
The Eric & Jane Nord Family Fund
Alan H. (ADL ’72) and Gail Paley
ESP Endowed Funds
The following endowed funds have been created to provide ongoing support for the Emerging Scholars Program:
Bryant S. Mason (ADL ‘70) Emerging Scholars Endowed Fund
The Kent H. Smith Charitable Trust Endowed Fund
for the Emerging Scholars Program
The Richard A. Thompson (ADL ‘65) Memorial Fund
Lists as of April 30, 2019