CPS’ annual pilgrimage to D.C.’s Howard University was made extra special this year by a visit from First Lady Michelle Obama.
The First Lady joined students for a tour of the campus, then sat down with them for a roundtable discussion on how early college exposure can motivate students to pursue and succeed in higher education.
“The trip to D.C. is always exciting, but the First Lady’s participation meant there was an extra buzz in the air this year,” said Gloria Purifoy, who has coordinated CPS’ visit to Howard since its inception in 2003.
Called the “Escape To Mecca” (E2M), this annual college visit gives talented high school students the chance to explore D.C.’s Howard University, which is often described as the “Mecca” of African-American education. The tour is made possible by a partnership between CPS and the Chicago People’s Union - an HU organization that seeks to increase fellowship among Illinois students and act as a liaison between perspective students from Illinois and the university.
“This experience gives students an in-depth glimpse into collegiate life, including the academic, social and cultural norms,” said Purifoy. “It’s their chance to begin navigating that environment rather than just reading or hearing about it.”
This year, the tour included 37 students from 18 high schools, all of whom were selected based on GPA, ACT score, FAFSA completion and their level of genuine interest in attending Howard University. For those students who have received acceptance letters from Howard for the fall, the trip is of particular importance.
“We call it the decision-making tour,” said Purifoy. “Now that they’ve been accepted, we want them to explore the campus and see if they can envision themselves spending the next four years there.”
Toward that end, the college experience provided to these students is fully authentic. They stay in dorms with current Howard students, several of whom were part of the E2M Tour in previous years, and attend classes in academic areas they might wish to pursue. They meet students and professors, tour the campus, and participate in student activities such as dances and residence hall competitions. And for those students who are definitely planning to attend Howard in the fall, meetings are arranged with college administrators to tie up any loose ends.
“For many, this is the final step in their college planning process,” said Purifoy. “By sitting with Howard administrators, they’re able to talk through housing, financial aid, and other logistical details that often trip students up the summer after high school graduation.”
More than 400 CPS students have participated in the E2M Tour over the past 11 years, and for many, it has been the springboard to a dynamic college experience. In both 2010 and 2011, every student who went on the tour chose to attend Howard, the former group preparing to graduate in the coming weeks.
“All of our alumni have honored the experience by acting as wonderful mentors and hosts to later E2M students,” said Purifoy. “It’s gratifying to see these students succeed and to watch them share their knowledge with the students who are coming up behind them on this exciting path.”