Take yourself through this scenario. You’re an intelligent, ambitious high school student who’s just been accepted to Northwestern University. You get to campus bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager to begin the next chapter of your life and ready to chart a course for a successful, fulfilling career.
One catch: since you’re from Mississippi, that’s all your classmates want to bring up — and not in a polite way, mind you.
Sydney Matrisciano, currently a sophomore at Northwestern, had to deal with fellow students wondering aloud how someone could go from the deep south to this prestigious private school in the north. She had to bite her tongue as one of her peers actually tried to teach her how to use the showers.
“They just hadn’t met someone from Mississippi before,” said Sydney, taking the high road.
Still, this dynamic is ever-present at elite institutions around the country and makes the challenge of adjusting to a new world that much more difficult. This makes NU’s Arch Scholars program such a blessing for students who come from more underprivileged upbringings, as Kyle Monk found out during a recent shoot in Evanston.
My understanding is [Arch Scholars] come from diverse backgrounds, places that had rarely sent students to Northwestern. These include places like rural America, the deep south, and public-school systems in low-income urban communities. Many of these students come from schools that don’t have the same resources as the schools that a lot of Northwestern’s students come from.
Arch Scholars is a decade-old program designed to minimize the challenges these students face during their transition to college life. Through four different initiatives — BRIDGE, Bio&ChemExcel, NU Bioscientist, and Posner Research — new Wildcats can meet peers who come from similar backgrounds before the semester starts and get acclimated to the school’s academic environment in a smoother fashion. Sydney took part in the BRIDGE program ahead of her freshman year in 2018.
“We would have seminars about study skills, different resources available on campus, and other helpful tips,” said Sydney. “We also had social outings on the weekend like a scavenger hunt in Chicago or a bonfire on the lake. It was a very well-rounded program!”
In working with Sydney, Kyle learned firsthand about her trials and tribulations, such as dealing with farcically stereotypical thinking about Mississippians.
I don’t know how I would have handled Sydney’s situation. Hopefully with a sense of humor.
Kyle, who had previous shot a cover for Northwestern Magazine years back, was contacted by Landesberg Design to see if he wanted to do work for Weinberg — an eponymously-titled campus publication which covers goings-on within Northwestern’s College of Arts and Sciences. He spent time with Sydney as well as Rwan Ibrahim, Nigel Anderson, and Brian Hannah, Arch Scholars involved in different sections of the program.
My overall impression from the students was positive. The program encourages students to seek help and the resources that are available to them. I think it’s given them confidence and a better sense of academic community along with the interest to help mentor new Arch Scholars. I get the sense that all these students are driven, hardworking, and grateful to be where they are.
Rwan took part in the Bio&ChemExcel program, which helps NU students who want to carve out a career in a STEM field. For five weeks leading up to a semester, these kids do intensive coursework in subjects like chemistry and math, but also take leadership seminars and are encouraged to mentor incoming students down the road. Rwan talked with Kyle about not being afraid to fail and never being ashamed to ask for help, which she learned from the program. This stuck with Kyle long after the shoot finished, and he plans to make it a teaching point with his child.
I embrace mistakes and will pass this advice along to my son. I wish I had [Rwan’s] mindset sooner. I was afraid to make mistakes, but how else are you going to figure it out and learn?
Like Rwan, Nigel was involved with the Bio&ChemExcel program as a freshman and is headed to medical school once he finishes up at Northwestern. He also signed up for another Arch Scholar program, NU Bioscientist, as a sophomore to better prepare himself for the rigors of medical school. When he got to Northwestern, Nigel was a quiet, self-sufficient individual who avoided speaking up in class and didn’t think he needed anyone’s help, something with which Kyle sympathized.
I can relate in that I never spoke up in high school. I was quiet, figuring myself out and looking forward to finding my career path.
Now, Nigel is all too happy to aid younger students who are going through what he experienced when he first got to the leafy, bucolic campus a world away from home.
“As an undergraduate teaching fellow, I helped teach the chemistry courses in the program, provided individualized tutoring services, and lived with the participants in the dormitory for the duration of the five weeks,” said Nigel. “I’ve always said it was the greatest job I’ve had because we got paid to help our little brothers and sisters succeed.”
You can see the pride on Nigel’s face as well as a sense of assurance that he just didn’t have even a few years ago. Kyle expertly captured this metamorphosis, using his cache of experience in the field of portraiture photography to do so.
I think I make people feel comfortable in front of the camera. I try to slow it down, keep it real, and be in the moment with the person. It’s teamwork.
The more interactions I have with subjects, the more faith I have going into a shoot. These interactions also give me the confidence to direct and engage with the subject on a greater level. This self-reliance and awareness come with time and experience, though.
Kyle’s final subject, Brian Hannah, was a member of the Posner Research Program. Like NU Bioscientist, Posner is for second-year students. As you can infer, the eight-week period is designed to give students a chance to get their feet wet in the world of research under the guidance of a Northwestern faculty member.
“My project involved analyzing box office trends for movies,” said Brian. “More specifically, I was looking at any trends over the years, or patterns based off of things like critic rating, genre, release month, and more. At the end, we had a research symposium where we presented our work to mentors, faculty, staff, and fellow students.”
This hands-on endeavor helped Brian land a summer internship at Amazon, and an MBA could also be in the future. What makes the Arch Scholars program so powerful is that it combines the rigors of academic work with an emphasis on building soft skills like leadership and interpersonal relations. It also helps driven students crystallize their goals and turn them into well-paying jobs and upwardly-mobile career paths. Northwestern encourages its Arch Scholars to not only ask for help, but offer it themselves when the time is right, something Kyle latched onto during the shoot.
I had a few mentors in the beginning. I think it’s very helpful and would encourage everyone to seek a mentor in their field of study.
See more of Kyle’s work at kylemonk.com.
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