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Summer Spark Academy gives rising freshmen head start

The five-week program comes to a close after providing students with early college exposure

August 11, 2022

70 rising NKU freshmen have spent the last five weeks engrossed in an on-campus college experience.

Summer Spark Academy gives students the opportunity to earn college credit, live on campus, engage with campus resources, and get to know fellow Norse all within a five-week span. The immersive experience comes at only a $125 cost to students.

Assistant Vice President of Enrollment and Student Success Ryan Padgett has seen the program evolve over its seven years of existence. A recent $96,000 grant from the Kentucky Council for Post-secondary Education allowed the academy to provide these great benefits to students at a significantly reduced cost.

“For $125, a student was able to get college credit in one or two courses… It paid for all three of their meals and also paid for their housing if they were living in housing. Then we had partners all across campus who also continue to support us. For example, Parking Services provides a parking pass for the students at no additional cost,” Padgett said.

The goal of the program is to ease the transition from high school to the unfamiliarity of college life, allowing students to develop relationships with their peers as well as NKU faculty.

Participants are given the option of a half-day or full-day program; those who choose the half-day regimen take one general education course, and those who participate for the full day take two.

Students choose their preferred classes, which are available in-person or online and are taught by NKU professors. Padgett noted that advisors ensure the selected classes align with a student’s major and graduation requirements.

Senior health informatics major Hanson Nguyen, who served as a Residential Assistant for Summer Spark Academy, witnessed first-hand the development of students’ study and time management skills.

“Being in courses that have only been five weeks that move very fast, [students] should really be able to time manage; these classes seemed really accelerated in my opinion. When they go to a normal class where it’s a full 15 weeks they’ll be just fine,” Nguyen said.

While earning college credit and developing skills to succeed in the classroom are the main draws to the program, there are other advantages as well.

RA Nguyen has seen personality growth in his residents over the last five weeks.

“As the weeks went by, students built actual connections and have found their true friendships. You have to find those who you truly connect with and just grow from there,” Nguyen said.

This realization often takes new freshmen weeks or months to come to terms with, so these participants have already gotten a head start. Padgett supported this idea and recalled seeing friends who connected at Summer Spark hanging out in the Student Union even several years later.

“Ultimately what we’re trying to do with Summer Spark is create that sense of belonging,” Padgett said.

Seeing participants feel energetic and ready to embody what it means to be a Norse is what propels the program forward. Many students will get early exposure to leadership positions, joining SGA or becoming the president of their organization, Padgett said. Some will seek out early on-campus employment, building connections with Career Services and securing a job for the beginning of the semester.

By the end of the five weeks, future Norse have engaged in the college atmosphere before the semester even begins, and Padgett believes they are ready to conquer whatever the semester brings them.

“Students who engage in this program are more likely to persist into their sophomore year and more likely to stay on track towards graduation. That’s why we continue to make this investment during the summers because we know it sets them up to succeed during their first year.”

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