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CCU Atheneum: Brandi Neal and student worker Deeariah Jenkins make preparations for the 60 students in the CEaL program that starts this month at CCU.
Brandi Neal and student worker Deeariah Jenkins make preparations for the 60 students in the CEaL program that starts this month at CCU.

CEaL: Bridging the gap from high school to higher education

by Mona Prufer
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Between the end of Summer II and the beginning of fall classes, you might see 60 new students running around the Coastal Carolina University campus, from July 10 through Aug. 9. These high school graduates are participants in an inaugural summer immersion program called Coastal Excellence and Leadership – or CEaL.

CEaL is CCU’s new residential program for hand-picked students whose SAT and ACT scores didn’t quite reach the mark for college admission, but whose high school grades were good (above 3.0 in most cases) and who showed leadership qualities, such as involvement in numerous extracurricular activities. Fourteen are from out of state, and 46 are from South Carolina.

CEaL took the best qualities of CCU’s Bridge program initiated in 2009 (but now defunct) and made many improvements, according to Nelljean Rice, dean of University College where the program is housed.
Brandi A. Neal, Ph.D., was recruited to direct the inaugural program which takes a three-pronged approach: an intense four weeks of academic coursework, leadership development and lots of social activities.

“SAT and ACT scores are not a true measure of your academic potential,” says Neal, who taught a course in the history of black music last semester. “Many of these students are from poor school districts so they might not have gotten the special attention they needed, or their teachers may not have had resources to help them.”

Neal, a product of Sumter public schools, earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of South Carolina and master’s and doctoral degrees in historical musicology from the University of Pittsburgh. She was an adviser for two years at UPitt and, as a third-generation teacher, sees herself taking a “more holistic” approach to students.

“Millennials are weird,” she says. “They require a little more than the previous generation. There is an understanding that some may need a little more backup in their corner.”

The group of 60 teenagers will live on the second floor of Ingle Residence Hall and will have academic activities for about eight hours a day beginning at 8 a.m. They will take English 101 and University 110, packing what normally takes 14 weeks into four weeks.
Leadership activities and courses and social activities will fill the rest of the schedule. Dean Rice will have tea and cookies with them twice a week to see how they’re doing and address their concerns. There will be outings to the Pelicans games and other area attractions to keep them busy and engaged.

“It’s very exciting,” says Neal. “It’s also terrifying. My greatest fear is that we’ll have unhappy students – that they’ll be homesick and unable to focus, the typical freshman issues. They are packing so much more into four weeks than most students, plus they are missing a month of summer relaxation.”

So far, in preparing for the initial CEaL session, Neal has done a lot of handholding with parents of the students.
“Some of them are very nervous,” says Neal. “They didn’t think their child was going to college and suddenly they are. They aren’t prepared to ‘lose’ them, yet they’re excited but fearful. Some had plans they had to cancel. I need to be very accessible to them.”

Neal’s goal is for the students “to have the most positive experience and positive introduction to the University” that is possible. She expects them to be shining examples of leadership and to complete four successful years here, the first graduates of CEaL.


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