“The friends that I made during my Running Start Program were the same group of students that I sat with at the Senior Sendoff.”
An offhand comment made by a graduating senior instantly became one of my favorite quotes about the Running Start Program. I had met this student almost four years ago on her very first day on campus. Then, she was a quiet presence – dynamic, sarcastic, driven with a sharp wit. Those are also four of my favorite qualities in a person. Running Start was at that point only a two-day program meant to assist underrepresented students in transitioning to SJU. On her first day, she, like many students were excited to begin her college experience, questioning how or if she would fit in, and wondering if she had made the right decision. Was Saint Joe’s a place where she could learn about herself? Would she be seen here? Valued? Would she find her home? Over the next four years, I was able to see her grow, connect, and be challenged in so many ways. She threw herself into SJU with her eyes wide open. Somewhat reluctantly approaching commencement, she was stronger, more confident, and accomplished. She was someone who found her home.
Since then, the Running Start Program has transformed as well, going from a two-day to a four-day program housed within Inclusion and Diversity. Running Start at its core is about belonging – finding and creating community, connecting with resources, and meeting other diverse students. It is a program where you can meet others who may come from the same neighborhoods, speak the same languages, and have similar successes or struggles. It is a program where you can see yourself, even when you might not see or believe you are represented here on campus. While the program targets students of color, those that are first in their family to attend college, or students with economic need, all students who have an active interest and commitment to diversity and inclusion are welcomed to participate.
Running Start begins in August where you get to connect with diverse faculty, engage in some small group and teambuilding activities, hang out on and off campus, and learn how to be successful at SJU. We also talk about that sense of belonging. What does it mean to be you in this space? What might it be like to be the only in a space? What also makes Running Start unique from the other Early Arrival is the ongoing programming that continues throughout the first year. First Year Running Start students are paired with older students (we call them Ambassadors) who will check in and be there to help you with everything from which professors to take to who really has the best cheesesteaks in the city (Note: It’s not Pat’s or Geno’s). We also hold monthly workshops or get-togethers to reconnect and learn some new skills, you get weekly outreach about campus events, scholarships and opportunities to get involved, discounted tickets, and as the Director of Inclusion and Diversity Achievement I do my own outreach and get to meet with you pretty often.
My office is located in the Center for Inclusion and Diversity which serves as home base for a lot of our students, including our Running Start students. In addition to a couple of offices, we have a LGBTQ lounge, a study room, and a large student lounge (with a HUGE TV). This is where many of our Running Start students build the foundation to their experience at SJU. Here is what a few of our actual students have to say about Running Start:
“Choosing to participate in Running Start was one of the best decisions I made coming into Saint Joe’s. The program gave me the opportunity to get a head start on campus, establish relationships with professors and upperclassmen and also led me to the people who I consider some of my best friends today.”
“Running Start made a huge impact on my experience at Saint Joe’s and I am very thankful to have been able to be a part of the program.”
“Running start gave me my first family at Saint Joe’s. The people you meet here will stick by you”
And we will stick by you. Sometimes, we casually throw around words “family” and “home”, but I think we’ve created something very close to those ideals. Running Start students are given the opportunity to make lifelong connections and root themselves to a community in a way that that is special and long-lasting.
Running Start Applications are now LIVE! See you in August!
Natalie Walker Brown
Director, Inclusion and Diversity Achievement
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org