More than 100 new students have spent the last month on the College of Charleston campus as part of SPECTRA (Speedy Consolidation and Transition Program) – the largest cohort the program has hosted since 2013 – and they’re all getting a head start on their college career.

“SPECTRA is a monthlong program purposely designed to acclimate students to academic and residential life at CofC,” explains Rochelle Johnson, director of the SPECTRA program and the College’s Office of Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS).

SPECTRA participants are newly accepted students from underrepresented populations, including African American, Latinx/Hispanic, Asian and Native/Indigenous Americans who might also be first-generation college students. And this year, for the first time, several 1967 Legacy Scholars and Meeting Street Scholarship recipients are participating.

CofC President Andrew Hsu, MSPS Director Rochelle Johnson and Alicia Caudill, executive vice president of student affairs, with SPECTRA students during an afternoon at the beach on July 30, 2021. (Photos by Heather Moran)

“SPECTRA is a tremendously successful program,” Johnson says. “For over 40 years, it’s been helping high school graduates transition to college life in realistic ways. They enroll in summer classes and earn academic credit. They live in a residence hall and participate in a variety of workshops and activities. Ultimately, they end up forming strong bonds with faculty, SPECTRA LEADers (upperclassmen) and fellow students.”

She adds that participating in the program is nearly free. Tuition, room, board and meals are all covered by the program. The only expense these students incur for participating is the cost of textbooks and discretionary purchases.

With 103 students on campus and two others participating virtually from out of state, the SPECTRA program is at maximum capacity this year. Johnson explains the increase in numbers relative to previous years by citing two principal factors. One, the pandemic kept many high school seniors out of the classroom last year, so most have been yearning for in-person interaction. And two, she hired a recent CofC grad, who is a former SPECTRA student, to work with the admissions office to recruit participants.

“I can’t say enough about the work that Raymond Harris ’21 did for us,” she says. “He was a SPECTRA student himself and worked in our office some time ago, and he was also one of our peer mentors, so he’s very familiar with the program. He’s been a tremendous ambassador, conveying the potential of this program.”

In fact, SPECTRA is largely run by older CofC students who are trained as SPECTRA LEADers. These students engage participants through small and large group bonding activities. They help manage transportation to off-campus activities and events, and they sit in on the classes that the participants take to provide support when needed.

President Hsu meets with SPECTRA students in the Cistern Yard on Aug. 4, 2021. (Photo by Mike Ledford)

Jada Young, a senior public health major from Irmo, South Carolina, participated in SPECTRA as a freshman in 2018 and is now serving as the head SPECTRA LEADer, which means she’s been organizing group activities, overseeing the other 16 student-leaders and liaising with Johnson and her staff.

Both she and Harris say the program is an exceptional opportunity for new students.

“I refer to SPECTRA as a GPA boost,” Harris says. “It’s really an incredible leg up on the college experience for these students because they get to meet faculty and staff members on a one-on-one basis, and those relationships support them throughout their time at the College.”

“When I was a SPECTRA student, I was able to bond with LEADers in a way that would never have happened for me outside of this program,” says Young. “We’ve grown so many close relationships that I will forever appreciate. And a number of my friends who didn’t participate have had struggles along the way. Their experience getting started at the College was very different compared to mine.”

SPECTRA concludes on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, but the participants will continue to be supported throughout the coming academic year through a complementary MSPS program called Mentoring Matters. Each SPECTRA student will be paired with a faculty or staff member – or student-mentor – who will support and guide them during their first year at CofC. It’s all part of what SPECTRA does to help ensure these students’ success at the College.