As a summer storm moved through Gambier one morning, 12 Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program (KEEP) scholars worked in small groups with their professors to analyze the most difficult passages in Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Beloved.”
“All of these passages work together because they are all self-reflecting inner monologues,” said Elizabeth Barrowman ’21, of Ashville, Ohio. “It seems very realistic to me. This is how my own memory works.”
This summer marks the 10th anniversary of KEEP, an intensive academic and co-curricular experience that connects incoming Kenyon students from under-represented populations with supportive peers and mentors.
“This is the most purely distilled version of the teaching that I do. Because it’s just one class, in a very short time, I get to bring everything I’ve got to this,” said Associate Professor of English Sarah Heidt ’97, who teaches the KEEP writing class with Associate Professor of English Jené Schoenfeld. Students also take a course in data analysis.
Qiyam Stewart ’21, of West Hills, California, sees that from his perspective. “I like the quality of the teachers in KEEP and the amount of attention we get. I like getting the college experience early, to find the right balance and to see how it feels.” Stewart and his fellow KEEP scholars will be joined by the rest of the Class of 2021 at Orientation in August.
KEEP grew from a writing course funded by a grant from the Silverweed Foundation and a quantitative reasoning course funded through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The Kenyon Board of Trustees approved College funding for 12 KEEP scholars in the summer of 2007 and in 2012 increased funding so the program could serve 24 students.
Funding to add another 12 in 2017 came when the National Science Foundation granted Kenyon $999,195 to study how high-impact practices in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) improve underserved students’ persistence and career success. Led by Associate Professor of Biology Karen Hicks, STEM scholars spend three weeks working on a STEM-focused project and three weeks participating in the KEEP writing course. Simon Garcia, associate professor of chemistry and faculty co-director of KEEP, redesigned KEEP’s data analysis course for this summer’s expanded program.
The summer KEEP program is scheduled so students feel the busy pace of college life. “KEEP is helping me with time management. In high school, I had lots of free time,” said Ali Caba ’21, of Brooklyn, New York. “This will really pay off for me.”
“We are trying to help them see how portable these skills are,” said Schoenfeld. “Writing critically is interdisciplinary. We are getting the students to ask: What is analysis? How do you do it?”
The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion manages KEEP. Associate Dean of Students Chris Kennerly helped launch the program and now works with program director Jacky Neri Arias ’13 to ensure KEEP students get advising, mentoring and support services throughout the school year.
The impact of KEEP is clear: More than 94 percent of KEEP scholars persist at Kenyon, outpacing the national average for private four-year colleges.
KEEP has fueled the growth in the number of students of color and first-generation students on campus in the past decade. First-generation students make up 10 percent of Kenyon’s student population and 40 percent of the KEEP cohort, said Associate Professor of English Ivonne García. García, who has taught KEEP classes since the program began, is faculty co-director.
For the faculty, teaching KEEP scholars is about more than just analyzing novels. “I care a lot about access,” Schoenfeld said. I care a lot about diversity. It is part of my vocation to support students who might be seen as marginal. Plus: it’s fun.”