The year was 1967. Three years earlier, president Lyndon B. Johnson had declared a War on Poverty, giving rise to the federally funded college access programs for low-income students that were known as TRIO. Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search, and Student Support Services programs were being launched at colleges and universities throughout the nation. Eager to contribute to Johnson’s vision of a “Great Society”, UConn applied for and secured a federal TRIO Upward Bound grant to serve students enrolled in Connecticut’s urban high schools. At the same time, the Connecticut Department of Education approached UConn president Homer Babbidge about developing a TRIO-like program for disadvantaged Connecticut high school youth. Babbidge agreed, and the two funding sources combined to create the Connecticut Pre-Collegiate Enrichment Program (CONNPEP), the University’s first educational opportunity program for underserved students.
Unlike other TRIO programs across the nation, CONNPEP was unique because it was funded in part by the state. This commitment to serving Connecticut’s neediest citizens enabled the University to hire permanent full-time staff, which was essential to building a high-quality, long-term program. The program ran a summer component on campus each year for approximately 30 high school students. The goal was to prepare them for access to and success in higher education. CONNPEP advisors spent the academic year working with students in their high schools and even visiting their homes. The program eventually grew to serve nearly 100 students.
Also in 1967, an initiative for college students called Summer Program was launched. The goal was to prepare incoming low-income and/or underrepresented freshmen from the state’s urban centers for the rigors of University academics and acclimate them to campus life. During the intensive, six-week Summer Program, students took classes, attended workshops, engaged in enrichment activities, and received one-on-one advising. The program grew to serve 100-125 students each year at the Storrs and regional campuses. Students were required to successfully complete the Summer Program to matriculate to UConn in the fall of freshmen year. Then in 1970, the University obtained its first federal TRIO Student Support Services grant to supplement funding the program.
In 1971, The Committee for the Education of Minority Students (CEMS) was established alongside the Summer Program. At the time, it was UConn’s only program designed specifically for minority students. CEMS served approximately 30-35 incoming freshmen each year who were identified as having academic need. The students arrived on campus three days prior to the start of freshmen year for an extended New Student Orientation. CEMS staff continued to work with the students throughout their tenure at UConn.
CONNPEP, Summer Program, and CEMS were initially managed separately and reported to the Vice President of Students Affairs until 1980, when they were reorganized under the Department of Special Academic Enrichment Programs (DSAEP). One year later, an advisory committee was created to address the high drop out rate among the University’s underrepresented students. The result was the Center for Academic Programs (CAP), established in 1983. Under CAP, Summer Program and CEMS merged into one access and retention program, called Student Support Services. CONNPEP changed its name to Upward Bound and continued to serve high school students until 2012, at which time the federal TRIO funds were not renewed.
Today, UConn’s TRIO and educational opportunity programs continue to be overseen by CAP. They have grown to include the McNair Scholars Program (funded by a federal TRIO Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program grant), ConnCAP (funded by the Connecticut Department of Education grant), and the UConn First Star Academy, which serves Connecticut high school foster youth via a partnership with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and the national First Star Academy. Previous programs included TRIO Educational Talent Search and Gear Up. Although program names have changed, and grants have come and gone, UConn continues its long-standing commitment to serving the state’s underserved citizens.
Over the years, many dedicated people have supported these initiatives, providing thousands of Connecticut students with a college education. The current directors within CAP – Dr. Maria D. Martinez, Dr. Bidya Ranjeet, and Susana Ulloa – would like to thank the following people for their contributions to access and educational opportunity at the University of Connecticut: Homer Babbidge, Sandy Plante, Trudy Johnson, Professor David Ivry, John C. Norman, Robert L. Brown, Antoinette Moran, Joe Grant, H. Fred Simons, David G. Carter, Iris Kinnard, Alma Maldonado-Cordner, Carolyn McDew, and Bernice Taylor.