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August 2018

A Day for Exploring College Realities


Photographs by Michael J. Leahy


Gabriel Gaskin, College Transition Day's facilitator, began by asking the scholars to share which borough they came from, which college they were bound for, and what was “Your academic superpower — you know you have one.” Math, time management and, perhaps most importantly, a willingness to ask for help were all cited.

Gabe, the founder of a consultancy called the Pax Crew that specializes in diversity and inclusiveness, then asked the scholars to close their eyes and envision their first day on campus: “What does it feel like to walk into your first class, meet your first professor, have a card that essentially lets you get whatever food you want?”

Conversation led Gabe into the discussion of “Imposter Syndrome” — the feeling, in this case, that the admissions committee must have made a mistake. Xabier, who is entering his sophomore year at Columbia, said that his dormitory floor had a large banner that read: “You belong here.” He recalled thinking, “Not me.” Then he realized that everybody else felt the same way. That discovery helped him overcome his doubts. “Remind yourself,” Gabe said, invoking those academic superpowers, “that you are great!”

Topics covered during the day went beyond academics, to dealing with roommate challenges, asking for help, handling finances and techniques for grappling with the large amount of  required reading. Laura Wilson, chief executive of Wilson Prep, an SAT and academic tutoring group, said that being a better and faster reader of nonfiction writing meant becoming “a detective of meaning.” She demonstrated multiple techniques for quickly and thoroughly analyzing nonfiction writing.

The day’s last item of business began when Kate asked each of the scholars to write down specific intentions for the next year. Among them: “Meet with three professors.” “Join two activities.” “Try not to hit the Freshman 15.” “Meet five to ten people a semester that I like.” “Create a schedule for myself that I actually follow.” “Become really good friends with my roommate.” And: “Learn to kayak."


As Gabe looks on from right, a group discusses their answer to the question he had posed.


Human barometer: Anijah takes a minority position — and has no difficulty in articulately defending it.


Discussing their position from left, Anijah, who is starting at the University of Southern California; Karen, just graduated from the City University’s Macaulay Honors College and will be attending SUNY’s Downstate College of Medicine in Brooklyn; Vasiki, a junior at Colby College, and Xabier, a Columbia sophomore. 


Laura Wilson channels Sherlock Holmes, urging searching out clues to rapidly decipher written assignments.


Three Columbians: From left, Xabier, a sophomore, Gil and Faria, both first-year students.


Two for N.Y.U.’s Tandon School of Engineering: Mohammed, left, a first-year, and Tasmia, a sophomore.


After a long day, heading for the Summer Gathering: From left, Anijah, who will be a University of Southern California first-year; Faria, going into her first year at Columbia; Vasiki, a Colby junior; Soléi, a Baruch first-year; Arianna, a first-year at Boston College; Ebrahim, a Colgate first-year; Michael, first year at Skidmore; Javier, a first-year at Rochester Polytechnic Institute; Mohammed, a first-year at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering; Joselyn, in her first year at Dartmouth; Gil, a Columbia first-year; Absetou, a Cornell sophomore; Karen, just graduated from the City University’s Macaulay Honors College and will be attending SUNY’s Downstate College of Medicine; Tasmia, in her second year at N.Y.U. Tandon School of Engineering; Xabier, a Columbia Sophomore; Kate Fenneman Stokes, Scholarship Plus executive director, and Anna Antoniak, the organization’s senior director.

Next: Investigating the Re-Invention of Investigative Journalism