Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Summer Link connects high school students with college, community service

For the more than 50 high school students who came to the University of Denver campus in August, the Summer Link program offered a taste of college life and a little more: an introduction to community service.

Cathy Grieve, director of the University’s Special Community Programs, which runs Summer Link, says this year’s program was different from other years in a couple of ways.

First, she and her staff expanded it, accepting about 50 percent more students. It’s hoped the program provides these students, who come from backgrounds where they might not see college as an option, with the confidence to pursue their dreams of higher education. She hopes to expand it again next year. About 80–90 percent of students who experience Summer Link go on to some form of higher education, Grieve says.

But the biggest difference this year was the addition of a new community service component. The students took over the new DU’s Bridge Community Garden for a day, weeding, painting and helping out.

“Community service and civic engagement is not only a big part of the University of Denver, but also at universities across the country,” Grieve says. “Giving something back, doing something for your community — universities are looking for that, they are expecting that.”

Next year, she says, the community service aspect will increase further, instilling community spirit in the students who take part. Beyond experience life on a college campus by living in a residence hall and talking about academic rigors, Grieve says students also will feel at home walking into a campus civic organization and volunteering.

Summer Link isn’t designed to funnel students to DU, although every year a few “graduates” do end up at the University. Instead, Grieve says, the program fits the University’s mission to be a private university dedicated to the public good by encouraging students to pursue higher education.

“You could call it, ‘Summer Link to the college of your choice,’” she says.

Gail Neujahr (BS finance ’79) helps run the community garden. As the students packed into the cramped space, careful not to step on the vegetables and flowers around them, Neujahr gave tours and directed the work.

“We’ve had such a wonderful experience here building this garden,” she says. “Hopefully by seeing this and taking part in it, these students will be inspired to develop their own little corner of the earth.”

With thunder clouds gathering overhead, student Mario Fierro, a junior at Denver’s Abraham Lincoln High School, was still at work. He said he was enjoying the community service portion but getting a lot out of the entire week of programs.

“I think I already knew I wanted to go to college,” he says. “But I’m really seeing what it’s about here.”

That taste of college wasn’t just about community service. During the week-long experience, students lived on campus, took field trips, learned about financial aid and took courses in computer gaming, international perspectives and astronomy. They also learned etiquette and followed the lessons with an elegant dinner.

The week ended with a trip to a Denver theater for a performance of the musical Man of La Mancha. The performance was by the PHAMALY theater group, which stands for Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League. The performance, Grieve says, challenged students to look past hardships on the way to achieving their goals, just as the actors have.

“The whole week was exciting, but the performance was just a wonderful finish,” Grieve says. “Afterward, I told them to think about what they saw. We all have handicaps in some ways. They might be cultural, financial, physical, but it’s how you address that handicap and overcome it that makes you a special person.”

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