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Community Cohort Stories

College prep programs at Wake Forest University empower students for college and community

A family of four stands together. The teenage son is holding a certificate for completing a college prep program.
Xavier Sparks (Winston-Salem LAUNCH Scholar 22-23) and family at College LAUNCH Graduation May 6, 2023. Photo by Becca Dandeneau.

Over the past year, Wake Forest University’s Pre-College Programs have seen continued success preparing students for higher education and civic engagement. Since their return to in-person, on-campus operations last summer, the programs have seen a rise in applications and student engagement. 

“What we saw was how resilient students are,” said Becca Dandeneau, Wake Forest Pre-College Programs marketing and social media coordinator. “They come to campus really excited about learning and connecting with their peers.”

One of the programs in particular is helping students prepare for their futures. The College LAUNCH for Leadership program is designed for high school juniors who show academic and leadership promise but who have historically been excluded from higher education. According to a survey of the students, 50% of College LAUNCH scholars came to the program prepared to apply to college, and by the end of the program, 100% felt prepared to apply. The last cohort to graduate from the program received over $15 million in scholarships to colleges across the country. 

“It’s really exciting for us to see that not only are we reaching more students who apply to College LAUNCH and want to be part of the program, but the quality of students is really exceptional, and our program makes them that much more prepared for college, and we’re getting those exceptional students out in the world,” said Dandeneau. 

A large group of young adults pose together. They are the graduates of a college prep program at Wake Forest University.
Charlotte LAUNCH Scholars 2022-2023 at College LAUNCH Graduation April 30, 2023. Photo by Becca Dandeneau.

Not only are the students feeling prepared for higher education, but they are becoming empowered to engage in their communities. The College LAUNCH curriculum includes a group research project called Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR), where students research a community problem or injustice, find solutions and present their projects at the end of year graduation celebration. When they arrive, 75% of students report feeling aware of social injustices and empowered to act in their communities. When they leave the program, 100% report feeling empowered to act. 

“The part of the LAUNCH program I enjoyed the most was the YPAR project because I feel like it taught us the most about different injustices in our community,” said Shay Ragland, a 2022-23 College LAUNCH participant.

College LAUNCH recruitment is open now for students in the Winston-Salem and Charlotte areas. It is free for students to attend, and the application window closes June 12.

Since late 2021, staff from Wake Forest University have participated in the IEI Educational Attainment community cohort, a network of similar organizations across NC. IEI has provided opportunities for strategic planning, peer learning and storytelling to help these organizations boost educational attainment levels in their communities. 

“It’s really helpful to come together in a space that IEI has created,” said Dandeneau.

Wake Forest University Pre-College Programs is one of five community-based organizations chosen by IEI as part of the 2022 Emerging Issues Forum community cohort on educational attainment in NC.