Vassar hosts tours for Poughkeepsie ninth graders   

Image courtesy of Simon Lewis.

On Oct. 27, Engaged Pluralism hosted Poughkeepsie High School’s (PHS) ninth grade class field trip to Vassar. The event included campus tours and activities aimed to expose students to paths of higher education. The second day of tours, originally scheduled for Nov. 3, was postponed to Nov. 17.

Lewis explains that the idea for the field trip began in an intensive he took with Professor of Political Science Katherine Hite in Fall of 2022, titled “Walking Poughkeepsie: Uncovering Poughkeepsie’s Symbolic Landscape and Imagining Otherwise.” The intensive was funded by the Office of Community Engaged Learning (OCEL)’s Community-Engaged Intensives in the Humanities (CEIH) grant and included both Vassar and PHS students. Lewis said, “These were the start of a series of conversations we had with PHS’s principal, dean of students and college counselors about how we could support them in thinking about college, starting with ninth graders.”

The student organizers on the committee are Simon Lewis ’25, Sophie Mode ’25 and Shyasia Arnold ’26. Mode described the purpose of the committee, saying, “Our goal is to work on projects and engage in conversations that address the complexities and needs surrounding the relationship between Vassar and the surrounding area.”

In Fall of 2022, Lewis partnered with Engaged Pluralism’s committee Bridging Campus and Local Communities, which includes students, faculty and administrators, to plan the event. Director of the Vassar Education Collaboration John Bradley, who also serves on the committee, explained that in their meetings the PHS school principal and guidance counselor expressed interest in giving ninth graders the experience of coming to a college campus.

Mode emphasized that their planning for the event was done in response to requests from PHS, saying, “Oftentimes colleges decide what the communities around them need without consulting the people who actually live there and ignoring the community knowledge, and this is not a practice that we were going to continue.”

Bradley and Lewis note that they’ve heard many PHS students give up on the idea of college because they think they cannot afford it. In addition to helping students visualize what higher education is like, Lewis said of their goals, “It’s important for folks to know about options in higher education that can be affordable for people of all income levels.”

Together, Lewis, Mode and Arnold trained 40 Vassar student volunteers to lead tours and created a booklet on pathways to higher education in conjunction with PHS. Organizers explained that the tours were not traditional Vassar campus tours, but rather a way to connect and build relationships. Mode said, “We wanted the tour to give a taste of college life and the options students have, not convince students that Vassar is the best option for them.” Lewis added, “It was a chance to connect, answer questions, flip through the booklets, and tell stories about ourselves and friends at other schools having different experiences.”

Student organizers also noted that the initiative was a way to strengthen relationships to PHS. Mode commented, “Ongoing collaboration with our neighbors is essential, particularly understanding Vassar not as an outside force that is coming in, but as a part of the Poughkeepsie community.” Lewis emphasized, “We have a responsibility to support our neighbors, especially given the insane amount of resources we have here at Vassar.”

Bradley noted that by hosting the event, “We wanted to highlight to the students and to the community that we’re an open campus.” Lewis noted, “Just because we are officially an open campus does not mean that the campus feels open or welcoming to everyone.” The day went smoothly, with Lewis saying, “[The students] enjoyed the tours and day more than I expected, and many had questions.” Bradley said his favorite part of the day was watching all the conversation and relationship-building that took place during lunch in the dining hall. Mode added, “We had so much fun just spending time together, and I feel that we all learned a lot from each other in the experience.”

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