AUB pre-college mentoring program: Supporting the smooth transition from school to university of at-risk students

Alexia Faus​, Office of Communications, communications@aub.edu.lb

Making the decision to attend university (and successfully transitioning) is a challenge for any young person, but one that can be even more fraught for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Making the right choice on where and what to study is even more important, and is further complicated by global professional trends. In Lebanon, for example, youth unemployment stands at 18%, and many of those that can leave would rather work abroad.

No wonder then, that what should be a relatively straightforward task - choosing a subject and a university - can turn into a full-blown nightmare, a protracted headache that often lingers even after starting a degree program. This is particularly the case if a university is not financially available, as students without scholarships risk missing out on study opportunities that would otherwise be there based on their talent and merit.  Some may even drop out of school altogether if they cannot finance their future education. Providing young people from less advantaged backgrounds with opportunities to pursue rewarding careers not only fosters inclusion and diversity within reputable universities, but fulfils a moral duty that the world of education should have towards youth. 

One way in which the American University of Beirut has proven its commitment to the UN Sustainable Agenda motto of “leaving no one behind” is by piloting a new program to help at-risk students from 11 public schools as they contemplate making the leap from high school to university. During spring 2019, over 100 youth in 11th grade, aged 16 and 17 and mostly Lebanese and Syrians, have benefitted from 40 hours of valuable training and mentoring sessions. These have all succeeded in preparing them for university in general, regardless of whether AUB is their final choice. 

The programs at AUB are, in some way or another, particularly attuned to some of the most pressing social issues in the Middle East. During the program’s orientation day in early April 2019 students were introduced to 10 subject disciplines. Participating departments included biology, nursing, physics, chemistry, computer science, engineering, education, and agriculture—particularly the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit, a leading regional research center specialized in community development through sustainable agriculture.

In addition, the Department of Architecture emphasized its commitment to human-centered architecture and accessible and affordable shelter, and the Department of Education addressed the importance of inclusion in schools with a visit to the Step Together School, an initiative that helps young people with intellectual disabilities acquire skills and vocational know-how to find employment or to continue their education. 

During the pre-college mentoring program, students were able to have individual consultations with faculty members to discuss available majors and were provided with on-the-job shadowing experiences, enabling them to conduct several curriculum-related experiments and real-life applications of concepts studied at school. Those seeking a career in science also enjoyed sessions in AUB’s world renowned laboratories. Through experiential and immersive learning, including two training sessions provided by AUB’s University Preparatory Program (UPP), all students were provided with a platform to practice skills relevant to our modern world, including communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. The program also exposed students to numerous scholarship opportunities that are available and familiarized them with admissions processes and available career choices.​

Programs that help ease periods of change are a welcome sight, particularly amongst at-risk communities who may not have access to similar trainings. The pre-college mentoring program at AUB not only assisted youth during this critical time between school and university, but has succeeded in providing life and professional skills needed in the 21st century, competencies that public school students can now carry with them as they also transition into adulthood. 

The program was implemented by AUB’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in collaboration with the Department of Education and supported by the Ford Foundation. It was led by Dr. Hana Addam El-Ghali, principal investigator, and Dr. Enja Osman, co-principal investigator, and was coordinated by Ms. Cynthia Hamadeh and Ms. Fida Alameddine.