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SUNY Potsdam Welcomes NYC High School Students for ‘Learning U’ Pre-College Summer Program

July 16, 2019

The State University of New York at Potsdam Hosts Learning U: An Applied Learning Academy

The State University of New York at Potsdam welcomed 21 rising high school juniors and seniors to campus last week for a hands-on pre-college summer program sponsored by the Heckscher Foundation for Children.

Called “Learning U: An Applied Learning Academy,” the SUNY Potsdam program is designed to help prospective college students from New York City who would either be the first in their family to attend college, or are coming from underprivileged or low-income backgrounds. The program is designed to help prepare the rising high school juniors and seniors for their transition to college at no cost, by helping them explore career paths and gain the skills they need to succeed in higher education.

According to a 2018 study by the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, one-third of first-generation students dropped out of college after three years, as compared with 14 percent of students whose parents earned a degree. The Heckscher Foundation funded grants to establish summer residential programs at SUNY Potsdam and the University at Albany, designed to help acclimate students and prepare them for the college experience.

“We are grateful for the opportunity provided by the Heckscher Foundation to welcome 24 students to SUNY Potsdam’s ‘Learning U: Applied Learning Academy’ summer residential program,” said President Kristin G. Esterberg. “SUNY Potsdam has a long and successful history in both applied learning and student success. This program will allow students to explore different career paths, gain skills needed to be successful in college, and participate in a range of applied learning activities, while surrounded by a strong support system.”

Learning U kicked off on July 6 and will continue through July 28. Students in the enrichment program get to complete two college courses for credit, including SUNY Potsdam’s First-Year Success Seminar and the Major and Career Exploration class.

Learning U participants are also being immersed in applied and experiential learning, through field trips and hands-on activities led by SUNY Potsdam faculty, like:

  • Crafting ancient tool technology with Associate Professor of Archaeology Dr. Timothy Messner,
  • Testing their green thumbs in the WISER Greenhouse and the Cecilie Garden with Wagner Institute for Sustainability and Ecological Research Coordinator Raymond Bowdish,
  • Using drones to collect data on invasive species with Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Dr. Jessica Rogers,
  • Collecting data in the exercise science lab with Assistant Professor of Public Health and Human Performance Dr. Christopher Torres,
  • Learning about arts career exploration and creative entrepreneurship with Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance Joshua Vink, and
  • Getting an introduction to vlogging and interviewing with Assistant Professor of Anthropology Dr. Faris Khan.

“Applied learning is a way of trying on different career options and seeing what fits. Maybe you love science, but you’re not sure which job to get after college… Applied learning teaches you the hard skills—for my students, things like plant identification and mapping techniques—that you might learn in a classroom, but also the soft skills like how to manage your day in the field and deal with things like inclement weather. Taking ownership of your learning process through applied learning allows for a richer experience, learning both what you want to do and what you don’t want to do in the future,” said Rogers.

In their downtime, the students have gotten to take in the Potsdam Summer Festival, and gotten a preview of college experiences like playing board games and doing “floor” activities with RAs, fitting in workouts in the Maxcy Hall Athletic Complex, and studying and relaxing on campus.

On July 21, students from the Project Achieve! program hosted at the University at Albany will join the Learning U students. They will take in hikes, see a planetarium show, and attend the Ogdensburg International Seaway Festival. The Learning U students will take a trip to Albany to join the Project Achieve! group again on July 27, taking part in a farm service learning project before attending a baseball game.

About the Heckscher Foundation for Children:

For nearly 100 years, the Heckscher Foundation for Children has worked to level the playing field for underserved youth, principally in New York. It supports innovative, results-driven programs and partnerships, and focuses its giving on education, including college access and persistence, workforce training and jobs access, and arts education that improves achievement in the classroom. The foundation’s venture philanthropy approach uses three principal funding strategies—catalytic giving, strategic partnerships, and targeted problem solving—that look for inflection points where its funding has the potential to change the course of a young person's life at a key juncture. Learn more at

About SUNY Potsdam:

Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges—and the oldest institution within SUNY. Now in its third century, SUNY Potsdam is distinguished by a legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 3,600 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and culture of creativity. To learn more, visit

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