Say Yes Provides Access to Promising Students

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March 8, 2013

Say Yes Program Provides Medaille With Increased Access to Promising Students

By Alan Pergament

Early in the fall semester, Medaille College junior Arielle Kaigler-Hall ’14 of Syracuse positively captivated two dozen members of the college's Board of Trustees.

In a 10-minute speech in the President’s Dining Room in the Kevin I. Sullivan Campus Center, Kaigler-Hall addressed what the Say Yes Syracuse program has meant to her.

“She captured the attention of the audience,” said Dr. Richard T. Jurasek, president of Medaille College. “She was able to provide the autobiographical expression of what Say Yes is all about. Afterward, trustees thanked us for finally putting a human face – a young person’s face – on all of the attempts by the media to describe the mechanics of Say Yes processes.”

Medaille has been the forefront of the Say Yes of Syracuse program as the only private institution in Buffalo to be involved in a coalition of colleges that give academically-prepared urban youth like Kaigler-Hall a better chance to succeed in college. Medaille has committed $450,000 to help Riverside High School graduates attend Medaille as part of this initiative. Medaille also helps students prepare for college by providing tutoring services and entrepreneurship programs through its partnership with Riverside.

It is the only Buffalo institution that has received and taught Say Yes students, having received three classes of Say Yes students from Syracuse.

Kaigler-Hall, who graduated from Corcoran High School in Syracuse, chose Medaille over all the Syracuse colleges and universities participating in the program. Why Medaille?

“It was not far from home if I needed to go home, has a small atmosphere and it is hands-on when communicating and seeing your professors,” Kaigler-Hall explained in an interview.

Medaille is building on the success of the Syracuse network as one of several local colleges in the newly-formed Say Yes Buffalo program. The SUNY system – which includes community colleges – and all of the private colleges are involved in Say Yes Buffalo.


“That’s the big difference between Say Yes Syracuse and Say Yes Buffalo,” said Dr. Jurasek. “They don’t have any public (colleges) in Syracuse.”

Kaigler-Hall has become an intern for the Say Yes Buffalo program, going to area high schools to discuss what it offers. “It is an opportunity for me to go to college and not having the burden of paying tuition,” she explained. “The internship gives me a chance to distribute information to other students.”

Students in the Medaille class of 2017 will be the first ones eligible to be part of the Say Yes Buffalo Network.

Since Medaille’s participation in Say Yes of Syracuse began in 2009, about 15 students from down the New York State Thruway have come to the Parkside Avenue campus and received a combined total of $338,000 in aid over three years. That’s in addition to what the students receive based on need from the federal government and New York State, with the total providing up to 100 percent of what is needed to attend college. Kaigler-Hall said she only is responsible for room and board.

Medaille has committed $450,000 to help Buffalo Public School graduates attend the college as part of the Say Yes Buffalo Initiative. The college also is providing tutoring services and entrepreneurship programs to help ensure that students in Buffalo Public Schools are prepared for college.

Dr. Jurasek, who has been Medaille’s president since 2007, made the decision that year to become one of 24 private and 73 public colleges to be an original member of the Say Yes Syracuse network program. The students in the program must qualify for entrance into Medaille under the same standards as other applicants.

“Why did Medaille College say yes to Say Yes Syracuse in 2008?” said Dr. Jurasek before answering his own question. “It was the first time in my life that I saw an attempt to enact an ideal of access with something more than money. It had the promise of a deep reform model and not just the typical American solution, which is throw a billion dollars at it. Just burn up the dollars.”

“Every White House administration in the last 20 years has argued for a complete, unqualified expression of access to college for everybody… The failure, however, has been that access usually was understood just in terms of committing money. The Say Yes movement made this profound difference that it just wasn’t about providing money but developing the understructure that takes kids from cradle to college-ready.”

Middle school and high school students in the Say Yes program not only get financial support, but they are given academic support, tutoring services, extended school days and school year programs, family services support and low cost or no cost health care. “It is a complete model,” said Dr. Jurasek, pointing to the understructure.

Through the first three-plus years since, about 15 Syracuse students have come to Medaille through the Say Yes program. The initial class graduates in 2014. Dr. Jurasek said the success is easily documented.

“This is glorious,” said Dr. Jurasek, pointing to the retention rate of Say Yes Syracuse students. “So far, they have persisted from freshman to sophomore at a better rate than the average Medaille freshman to sophomore. We find the Say Yes students are particularly motivated and conspicuously confident.”

It’s a great model for success as exemplified by Kaigler-Hall.

“By social, racial and economic measures, she represents that type of student who is underrepresented in the United States in higher education,” said Dr. Jurasek. “She comes from a high-need family and she lives in the city of Syracuse.”

“She has taken charge of her undergraduate experience and has already at the front end of her undergraduate experience lined up internships. She is ambitious in the best sense of the word.”

When Dr. Jurasek listened to Kaigler-Hall tell her story to trustees in the fall he also heard his own story from a half-century earlier.

“Autobiographically, I see myself in these kids,” said Dr. Jurasek, who is of Slovakian descent. “My biography makes it easy for me to identify with Say Yes students. In terms of social class and economic class and college readiness I had many of the characteristics of Say Yes students. I was in remedial English when I went to college. I was academically unprepared, academically under-supported and not ready for college. I was uncomfortable around adults. I was a poor communicator, unsure of myself.”

“I cannot make enough of how important confidence is,” said Dr. Jurasek, an only child. “Kids from the wrong side of the tracks everywhere have confidence bred out of them.”

A graduate of a Cleveland, Ohio area high school, Dr. Jurasak was like many young men in the 1960s who needed to go to college to get a deferment and avoid going to fight the war in Vietnam.

He remembers being about 400th in a high school class of 700 when he attended Ohio University.

“I was told I was not college material by a counselor,” added Dr. Jurasek. “I accepted it as truth.”

That all changed when a couple of professors in the English department saw something in Dr. Jurasek that he didn’t see in himself when he was a sophomore.

“They decided I had innate talent as a student of literature and coaxed me, prodded me, and pushed me until I discovered the pleasure of the life of the mind,” said Dr. Jurasek. “If it weren’t for those two professors I most certainly would have completed college, entered a career and completed my work life performing under my abilities.”

After graduating from Ohio University, Dr. Jurasek earned his master’s and doctor’s degrees from The Ohio State University.

He envisions similar success from the Say Yes students now at Medaille like Kaigler-Hall. “Her story felt true,” said Dr. Jurasek.

Dr. Jurasek is confident the success of the Say Yes of Syracuse program will bode well for the Say Yes of Buffalo students who eventually enter Huber Hall and the Main Building at Medaille. And it will also benefit the college.

“The benefit to Medaille is two-fold,” said Dr. Jurasek. “Our mission has always been to serve the underserved, to serve the underrepresented in America’s metropolitan areas like Buffalo and Syracuse. We are a local college and we are proud of it. If we say we are committed to this particular American metro area, by definition we are committed to young people who are underrepresented in higher education by social class, economic class and race. It is a pure expression of our mission and Say Yes students come to us well-prepared and ready to work.”

You could say yes to the idea that Dr. Jurasek envisions a benefit to Medaille as great as the one that benefits the students he identifies with so much.

I'm grateful for the education I've received.

The instructors were knowledgeable and welcomed class discussions, with
respect for each student's contribution. I've learned how to be a more
effective leader. My capstone class gave insight on how to combine all
the education learned to operate a business. That's when I realized how
much I had sharpened my knowledge.

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