40th Challenge Program Hosts 75 Incoming Students
Participants and Program Operators Exercise Safety Measures In Wake of Pandemic
The 2020 OMED: Educational Services (OMED) Challenge program operated a little differently this year.
The typically five-week summer intensive academic program was shortened to three.
The incoming first-year student participants engaged in the program’s various community, athletic, and corporate activities while wearing protective masks.
Academic courses were hybrid – and smaller – to accommodate for physical distancing.
Students resided in single-occupancy dorm rooms in the campus’ Gray House (formerly known as Fourth Street Apartments).
A smaller cohort of 75 were welcomed this year.
Still, the 40th iteration of the program successfully upheld its pledge to prepare incoming first-year underrepresented minority students for college life at Georgia Tech by addressing the 7Cs: computer science, chemistry, calculus, communication, career development, cultural competency, and community service.
“The 2020 Challenge program will be remembered as historic for at least two reasons,” said Archie Ervin, vice president of Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on a recorded video message during the program’s closing ceremonies on August 13.
“First, you as members of Challenge 2020 helped defy the odds and overcome obstacles the Covid-19 pandemic presented to us which threatened our chances for even conducting Challenge for its 40th straight year. Second, history will acknowledge all of you for doing all the right things and staying focused on your academic goals that helped make Challenge 2020 successful in spite of the odds against us,” he continued. “Even though Challenge 2020 was shortened by a couple of weeks, I’m confident we accomplished all of our important goals and objects for the program.”
“Challenge has been one of the best experiences of my life,” said Cameron Heard, an incoming biomedical engineering major. “The academic courses here were very rigorous and I feel like they’ve prepared me for the courses I’ll see at Tech. Most importantly, I feel Challenge has helped me grow overall as a person.”
In addition to the academic rigor, participants took part in virtual dinners with corporate partners; performed community service activities; participated for a scavenger hunt; made new friends during the opening weekend cookout; and battled the rapids of the Ocoee River during the annual white water rafting excursion – all while practicing safe measures in the wake of the pandemic.
“We implemented additional measures for Challenge outside of what many of our participants were used to practicing on their own, so naturally there was a period of adjustment,” said Jelani Liddell, OMED’s assistant director of Outreach Initiatives and director of the program. “Our Challenge counselors did a great job monitoring and reminding students of safety protocols. And our participants understood the precautions and adjusted very well to our modified program.”
Some of the added precautions were: requesting participants to self-isolate prior to arrival on campus; single-occupancy housing on campus; restricted travel off campus; required isolation upon non-essential off-campus travel; required face coverings in all public spaces; body temperature monitoring; designated isolation rooms; and physical distancing guidelines.
“Our hybrid-program model allowed us to maintain safe distancing while still maintaining the engagement dynamic which consisted of participant social interaction and peer relationship development,” added Liddell. “We wanted to ensure that physical distancing did not assume social distancing. We believe we were able to accomplish that this year.”
The closing program was conducted across two ceremonies to account for physical distancing. Awards for most improved and exemplary academic performance were presented to six students in the program's computer science, mathematics, and chemistry courses.
Corporate sponsor BP joined with OMED to support the recognition of 35 students for outstanding academic performance, including 18 who earned a 4.0 GPA during the program.
“Coming into college, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Nathnael Aberra, a computer science major, ahead of the closing. “But Challenge has put my worries to rest. I feel great that I got the opportunity to give myself this head start at Tech.”
This year’s closing ceremonies also included the presentation of a new award on behalf of Tech's Center of Engineering Education and Diversity (CEED): the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) offered awards to five Challenge students eligible to receive an annual scholarship. “You are an impressive, proven, and resilient group," said Sybrina Atwaters, director of OMED and academic coordinator of Challenge. “During unprecedented times, this cohort has confronted every challenge placed before them, collectively earned over $30,000 in incentives for the upcoming Fall semester, and established a new Challenge academic record."
The 2020 program hosted participants from seven states with an ethnicity breakdown of 59% Black/African American, 32% Latinx, 4% Asian, and 4% two or more ethnicities. Student participants majored in more than a dozen areas of study.
This year's program was supported by corporate sponsors BP, Eaton, and Procter & Gamble.
To learn more about the Challenge program, visit omed.gatech.edu/programs/challenge.