The Simon Scholars Program is designed to help traditionally underrepresented students attain a college degree. We believe that investing in higher education is a means of empowering young people to live rich and rewarding lives. Our primary aim is to help our scholars actualize their dreams and aspirations. Our philosophical approach is rooted in relationships, community, stories, the chance to deeply reflect, and a broad view of what “success” means.
Relationships form the core of our program and are what enable all of our work with scholars. We view the capacity to listen as a key attribute to building relationships, and we provide scholars with ample opportunities to develop this capacity. We build relationships from a foundation of trust and see each scholar as a whole person in the context of their lives, rather than simply as students or investments. Our relationships with scholars are horizontal, not vertical; we learn from and grow with one another rather than impart “expert” knowledge to our scholars. At the same time, we strive to provide knowledgeable guidance as needed, particularly related to academics, the college process, and family/life issues.
We are thoughtful about the community of scholars we bring together each year. We believe that character matters, and is a better predictor of future “success” than grades, test scores and academic aptitude. Therefore, we look for particular character traits when selecting our scholars. Our experience working with students for many consecutive years shows that those who exhibit optimism, determination, persistence, gratitude, and enthusiasm are more likely to persist in college until graduating, and are more likely to remain engaged in our program as alumni. Furthermore, although we seek to bring together a group of students with diverse backgrounds and life experiences, our scholars share common values that are in line with our program’s values and beliefs. These include a belief in education as a gateway to success, a commitment to giving back to others and making the world a better place, a belief in the human potential to learn, grow, and achieve, as well as a sense of hope and optimism for the future. When such a dynamic group of like-minded young people comes together, what emerges is often more than a community, but a family.
We believe that every person has a story worth telling and hearing, and we strive to create safe spaces for these stories to emerge. We support our scholars in telling their stories because it is through this sharing that we come to see the awesomeness in our selves and others. We recognize that these stories change over time as students grow, and we support them in reframing certain aspects of their stories so that they see the gifts presented by their life challenges.
Our scholars are involved in a wide variety of activities and lead extremely busy lives. In the midst of all of this, we aim to create spaces for thoughtful reflection and processing, rather than more “doing.” Our scholars are out in the world developing essential life skills at school, in their communities, and in their families. We provide opportunities for scholars to reflect on their experiences, share observations and learning with one another, and develop strategies for applying this learning in the future.
As a college preparation, transition, and completion program, some key metrics of Simon Scholar success include graduating high school, enrolling in a fully accredited college or university, persisting as a full-time student, and graduating from that institution in a timely manner. However, we believe that “success” runs deeper than these important accomplishments. A successful individual is one who feels their life has meaning, that their work and relationships are fulfilling, and who has a positive impact on their family and communities. We also believe that that self-awareness and self-acceptance are key to living a meaningful and fulfilling life, and we strive to facilitate the development of these qualities in our scholars.