Last summer Emanuel Byas was looking for scholarships to help offset the cost of tuition when he came across the Crossing the Cistern program. He just wanted a little extra money. What he got was life-changing.

“I was overwhelmed at first,” recalls Byas, who learned that in order to receive the funds for the 2017-18 academic year he had to complete a year-long program with a series of requirements aimed at improving his grades. “But it really worked out.”

Launched in August of 2017 through the Office of Institutional Diversity, Crossing the Cistern is a $4,000 scholarship program serving rising sophomores and juniors who have a minimum of 30 earned credit hours and a GPA between 2.0 and 2.4. But beyond monetary support, the program has several additional components aimed at encouraging students, including academic support, monthly seminars, alumni mentors and a spring internship.

Emanuel Byas in the School of Sciences and Mathematics Building. (Photos by Reese Moore)

“Crossing the Cistern is designed to address the academic hardships of all students with a particular focus on African American, Latin American and Native American students,” says Rénard Harris, associate vice president in the Office of Institutional Diversity and the College’s chief diversity officer, noting that the long-term goal with the program is to increase diversity at the College. “We want to take care of who is in the house now, and when they graduate, they’ll tell the story. It’s a demonstration of a shared responsibility.”

Byas, a junior majoring in geology, is among 12 students in the first Crossing the Cistern cohort. Among the program components Byas found especially helpful were the monthly meetings with community speakers, weekly tutoring sessions through the Student Learning Center, and the mentoring he received from former CofC student-athlete Sedric Webber ’99, who is a program director with the YMCA of Greater Charleston.

“Listening to community members and alumni speakers talk about their lives and how they found success in their respective careers – that really helped me and empowered me to do better,” he says.

Byas’ experience is exactly the goal of Crossing the Cistern.

“The heart of the program intentionally creates opportunities that support and enhance each student’s well-being while at the College of Charleston,” says Harris, noting that, anecdotally, students have shared personal stories that speak to the program being both purposeful and beneficial. “Emanuel was fully engaged. He was inquisitive, motivated and determined.”

In addition to a better GPA, Byas has gotten something else, too. An internship this spring working with a research assistant in the College’s geology labs testing stormwater pollutants led to a research opportunity this summer with Vijay Vulava, associate professor of geology and geosciences. Under Vulava’s guidance, Byas will further examine stormwater pollutants in Charleston’s waterways with the hope of publishing his research.

“If it wasn’t for Crossing the Cistern I wouldn’t have had this opportunity,” says Byas, adding that he feels better prepared for his senior year at the College. “I’m really excited and I’m really thankful.”

The deadline to apply for the Crossing the Cistern scholarship program for the 2018-19 academic year will be within the first two weeks of August 2018.