Over two sessions in June and July, a record 61 new Whitties from 15 states took part in Whitman's Summer Fly-in Program. Jointly organized by the Academic Resource Center, the Intercultural Center and the Office of Student Activities, the program is designed for incoming first years from first-generation, working-class or under-resourced backgrounds, and it has become an integral part of Whitman's pre-semester orientation since its introduction in 2015.
Adyiam Kimbrough '19, a politics major from Worthington, Minnesota, attended the program prior to her first year. She has returned as a student leader the summers before her sophomore and junior years.
"I wanted students from marginalized backgrounds to understand they have a place at Whitman and that they, too, can succeed even with hardships and obstacles," Kimbrough said, adding: "The people I call my best friends at Whitman are the friends I made through the fly-in program."
The program's primary goal is to ease the transition to college by providing students with the opportunity to get to know Whitman better—by attending an Encounters class, meeting with staff from the Center fOr Writing and Speaking, student health services, financial aid and other offices, and staying overnight in the residence halls. All 61 participants—who represent 15 percent of the incoming class—come from under-resourced backgrounds; 44 percent are the first in their families to attend college.
Kazi Joshua, vice president for diversity and inclusion, stressed that Kimbrough and other students who have attended the program consistently emerge as campus leaders.
"This is direct evidence that the program does what it is intended to do: demystify the workings of Whitman College, provide a context in which a sense of belonging is created and create close-knit communities that support students throughout their journey at Whitman," Joshua said.
Whitman's graduation rate for first-generation students is 76 percent—higher than the national average, which, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, is 40 percent. Providing additional support and a sense of community for students from under-resourced backgrounds is still important, said Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center Maggi Banderas '05.
"It's amazing to see the growth and development the students experience in the time that they are here. We have immediately seen them take on leadership roles in a way that is unprecedented for first-generation working-class students."
Associate Dean of Students for Student Activities and Programs Barbara Maxwell and Associate Dean of Students Juli Dunn were also closely involved in planning the summer fly-in sessions.
Over the past three years, Maxwell has seen that student participants tend to hit the ground running when they come back to campus in the fall. "They are bold and courageous in creating the Whitman experience they want for themselves," she said.
Dunn is happy to see how previous participants like Kimbrough have become strong leaders. "To remember where they were one or two years ago as participants and to have a front-row seat watching them develop into strong student leaders was so incredibly rewarding and such a blessing to be a part of."
For Kimbrough, building relationships as a fly-in program attendee made her feel more at ease when she arrived for opening week.
"Not only did I have a solid group of friends from the fly-in, but a group of people that I could identify with and that understood me and my experiences," she said. "I truly believe the fly-in program is a step toward bringing equity and justice to our campus."