21 seniors are first to graduate from Tufts’ BLAST program for students from under-resourced high schools or families without college experience

May 19, 2016

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Patrick Collins

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (May 19, 2016) -- Twenty-one members of the Class of 2016 will be the first graduates of Tufts University’s Bridge to Liberal Arts Success at Tufts (BLAST), a  program to support and develop undergraduates who are the first in their families to attend a four-year college or who have attended under-resourced high schools.

The program, which begins before students’ first semester and lasts through graduation, attracts about 20 students each year and has had a 100 percent retention rate since its launch in 2012. Among the graduating BLAST scholars are two students who came to Tufts through Determined to Succeed, an educational support non-profit co-founded by actor and producer Hank Azaria. A Tufts alumnus, Azaria will deliver this year’s commencement address on May 22.

“We’re extremely proud of these students,” said Robert Mack, associate dean for student success and advising and director of the BLAST program. “They were pioneers who overcame obstacles, engaged and triumphed, and took seriously their obligation to help and mentor others following in their footsteps.”

Patrick Williams, 22, a political science major from Moncks Corner, SC, said the program enabled him to build a “family” of BLAST participants with many similarities who encouraged and supported each other. After graduation he will be working in New York as an analyst for BlackRock Inc., an investment management firm.

“BLAST has given me the educational and material help to experience life-changing opportunities throughout my four years here,” he said. “If it weren't for this program, I wouldn't have been able to experience making a presentation at a conference in Montreal, studying abroad in Hong Kong, traveling to San Francisco for interviews for an internship, traveling to New York for a career-internship consortium, or even being able to afford my Tufts education.”

During a residential six-week program in the summer prior to their first year at Tufts, BLAST prepares students for a rigorous college curriculum by enabling them to take two courses for credit, introduces them to Tufts culture, and provides resources for a successful transition. Scholars are introduced to engaging speakers in workshops and offered leadership development training that cultivates active citizenship.

BLAST scholars who qualify for work study during their first year receive a stipend instead so they are free to concentrate on academics, adjust to campus life, and pursue leadership roles in student organizations.

Scholars continue to participate in program activities during each of their following academic years. Approximately 75 percent of BLAST participants study abroad, made possible in part by each scholar’s access to an educational enrichment fund that he or she can use to pay for things like international travel, stipends for unpaid research positions, and additional academic programs.

The program is modeled on Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST), a four-year program started in 2010 that supports select undergraduates as they transition to the School of Engineering and supports them throughout their four-year education.

Jared Smith, 21, a sociology major from Philadelphia, Penn., said BLAST gave him access to work and professional development opportunities and the chance to present at domestic and international conferences.

“The BLAST program has allowed me to feel at home in a place that at first felt so foreign to me,” said Smith, who is the first in his family to attend college. After graduation, he will join Tufts as a college transition advisor, using his own experiences to help students from underrepresented groups navigate the passage from high school to college. “Eventually, I plan on pursuing a degree in education in graduate school.”

The university also benefits from BLAST because of the perspective and enthusiasm BLAST scholars bring to the community, said John Barker, dean of undergraduate and graduate education.

“They’ve accomplished this for themselves, and they’ve helped us as much as we have helped them in changing the university and setting an example of how we interact with each other on campus,” said Barker. “They’ve made this institution better with their presence here.”

About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university is widely encouraged.