WATERVILLE — Adam Lerette, who’s studying hospitality at Thomas College, has been made to feel very welcome on the West River Road campus.

The sophomore from Auburn said his comfort level was buoyed by Engage-Develop-Guide-Empower, or EDGE — a program that provided him and 22 other incoming students with an intensive, free summer course before the start of fall classes, as well as two $500 book stipends and individual tutoring.

And Lerette, who has a grade-point average of 3.5, is flourishing.

He is a resident assistant and member of the Student Senate and Leadership Team and has co-founded a community service group whose activities include collecting new clothing for Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter residents.

Lerette is one of about 70 Thomas College students who have benefited from the two-year EDGE program, which recently earned distinction for its innovative programming geared toward boosting the graduation rate of low-income college students.

Late in January, the College Board presented Thomas with a CollegeKeys Compact Innovation Award and $5,000 for future participants’ book stipends.

The College Board started the program in 2007 after it found that some college-qualified low- and moderate-income high school graduates don’t enroll in a four-year college because of a combination of poor preparation, low expectations and economic barriers.

The program’s goals are to ensure that those students attend and graduate at the same rate as more affluent students.

Debbie Cunningham, dean of retention services at Thomas, said EDGE was designed to give first-generation college students a solid start.

Participants arrive on campus in mid-August, before other students. For about six hours for eight days, they’re enrolled in the three-credit course, Foundations of Quantitative Analysis.

They also go to movies and out to dinner, take part in workshops, and participate in community service projects and orientation activities.

“It was a great program for me,” Lerette said. “It was great to get involved early and get a head start,” he said, adding that he and the other participants formed a strong bond with each other.

Cunningham said the program works because it helps students acclimate to college life on three fronts — academic, social and financial.

“By hitting these three pieces, we can start to make a real difference in student lives,” she said.

Kristina Creeger, of Biddeford, Jessie Wilson, of Winslow, and Kassandra Shackley, of Livermore Falls, are three of the 43 members of the class of 2015 participating in the program.

Cunningham said 50 applied.

To be chosen, students must agree to participate actively in all the EDGE events and meet regularly for academic coaching.

All three women said they had 3.0 or higher grade point averages their first semester, that they joined campus activities, and that the program was instrumental in helping them make the transition from high school to college.

Wilson said she is the first in her family to graduate from high school. She plans to be a clinical psychologist.

Creeger, who wants to be a lawyer, said bonding with other students before the start of the term erased a lot of her jitters.

Shackley, who said her mother cried after learning that she had earned a 3.85 grade point average, plans to major in psychology and minor in sociology, then seek an advanced degree.

Shackley said when she’s in the work force, she’ll donate money for scholarships for students in need.

Cunningham said she was touched by the students’ gratitude and was pleased that there are spots in the program for 75 of next year’s 275 incoming students.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]


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