This fall, following years of tradition, the Truman Pierce Institute welcomed outstanding seniors from Loachapoka High School to the Auburn campus for L.E.A.D. Days. Under the leadership of TPI’s new director Dr. Jason Bryant, the L.E.A.D. acronym has been modified to better reflect the purpose of the outreach project. “Learners Exploring Academic Dreams” better reflects the idea that by bringing these promising students to campus they are learning not just about Auburn but about the larger purpose and promise of higher education. The relationships between the College of Education and Loachapoka schools are strong, and have included poetry readings and on-campus events and activities among many other things.
“We have in the past and continue to have a strong connection to the school in Loachapoka,” Bryant explained. “The success of this relationship is leading us to expand our school partnerships to hopefully include Notasulga and Reeltown as well, giving us connections to schools in our three neighboring counties of Lee, Macon, and Tallapoosa. We want to build these connections with their K-12 systems to carry on our 1982 charter wherein we devote ourselves to the study and improvement of teaching, learning, and leadership. We continue to focus on ways to improve schools and communities by creating partnerships, conducting research, and providing programs to meet the needs of schools and communities. Our L.E.A.D. event this fall is one of many such efforts.”
The most important change in the longstanding L.E.A.D. relationship, Bryant said, is that TPI wants students to not only learn about and consider Auburn as their future home, but also to help students begin to “dream” about the real possibilities presented by higher education, whether that is Auburn, Southern Union, or any other institution of higher learning that gives these students a better opportunity in life.
Busy day for students and staff
Following a good breakfast from Panera Bread served in the Scholarship Room of the old Coliseum on campus, the students gathered to discuss the theme of “Raising The B.A.R.,” another acronym for “Believe. Achieve. Receive.” Led by the ever-energetic and longtime L.E.A.D. stalwart Teresa Smoot, the program got off to a rousing start. Will Brown, a Loachapoka High School alum who is now an Auburn student, joined Smoot at the podium while Bryant encouraged the students to make the most of this day-long opportunity.
“You have lots of opportunities out there in front of you,” Bryant said. “You’re here because you have excelled on many fronts and we want you to stay focused and make the most of what is out there today and in your future. We’ll be outlining ways to work toward success and give you a chance to see what is here for you at Auburn. But the bigger idea is to focus on the possibilities of higher education and how that can help change your lives.”
The primary morning activity for the students was to create a Vision Board. The activity was led by LHS alum Brown.
“We often have a disconnect with our vision for ourselves,” Brown said. “When that alarm clock sounds in the morning, it is signaling opportunity. We want you to be looking at that day and ask what you can do to maximize your opportunities. So what we’ll do now is find images and words to put on our Vision Boards so we can visualize those far-off hopes and dreams and turn them into reality. By putting it on our board, we can visualize it every day. We’ll get a solid start today, but encourage you to add to your board as time goes on.”
As it turned out, the internet was having problems in the Coliseum ground floor, so Brown used it as an opportunity to demonstrate that you must always have a backup plan. The students’ Chromebooks were essentially rendered obsolete, so Smoot and Brown pulled out boxes of current periodicals for the students to comb through and create physical Vision Boards as opposed to the e-boards they had originally planned on.
An hour of (literally) cutting and pasting later, the students developed boards that showed their diverse interests. The themes included spots, food, travel and leisure, but mainly focused on the eternal themes of giving back to the community they loved, living for the moment while facing inevitable challenges, and empowering their fellow African-American students. The students also focused on their different professional dreams including the healthcare professions, education, and seeking justice as lawyers and judges, and how these professions could not only provide meaningful work but also create security for them and their families through nice homes, reliable transportation, and safer communities.
The next activity focused on how to approach these professional dreams by preparing solid resumes, researching different occupations, completing job applications, and preparing for job interviews. TPI staff split the groups into different occupational categories and conducted live interviews, which their fellow students observed and critiqued.
Following lunch on campus, the LHS seniors toured the campus with the War Eagle Girls and Plainsmen, official hosts of the university, and had a chance to look around and ask questions.
At the end of a long day the students prepared to leave campus for the short trip home, carrying good memories and solid lessons along with their AU swag bags.
“This was a great day and the start of something we hope to replicate with our other school partners,” Bryant concluded. “We want to give these local students a chance to learn about and fall in love with Auburn, but mostly we want them to realize that, no matter where they come from, they can make their own dreams come true.”