Advanced Credit Program helps incoming freshmen lay a solid foundation, find common ground

by | Sep 22, 2016

Heather Penrod and Sally Nguyen are two of the more than 100 students among this fall’s freshman class who participated in the UMSL Advanced Credit Program.
Heather Penrod and Sally Nguyen, members of freshmen ACP cohort

Heather Penrod (at left) and Sally Nguyen, who graduated from Winfield and Seckman high schools, respectively, both took advanced placement courses during their high school careers. (Photo by August Jennewein)

For many teenage students, the idea of taking advanced credit courses might be a bit nerve-racking.

But if the numbers are any indication, more than 100 students from this fall’s freshman class at the University of Missouri–St. Louis can attest to the fact that the classes aren’t anything to be afraid of.

In fact, such courses, which UMSL offers through its Advanced Credit Program, can often lay the groundwork for a smoother transition from high school to college.

“Taking advanced credit for me was not hard, but rather a challenge of my critical thinking, time management and analytical skills,” says Sally Nguyen, a freshman from Arnold, Missouri, who is studying psychology. “The courses helped me push myself to excel beyond my own expectations and helped to balance my course load.”

Classmate Heather Penrod, a secondary math education major from Winfield, Missouri, echoes Nguyen’s sentiments.

“My advanced credit courses in high school were challenging but enjoyable,” she says. “I took them to further prepare myself for college, and it was a good decision.”

Nguyen and Penrod are just two members of the largest group of freshman ACP students UMSL has seen. They both arrived at UMSL this fall with about a semester’s worth of credits already completed, and they both received UMSL Bound Scholarships, which are available exclusively to high school seniors who’ve taken an ACP course with UMSL.

While Nguyen and Penrod agree that financial incentives were a huge part of the university’s appeal – each of their overall scholarship packages equated to a full ride – they quickly point out that the welcoming environment on campus makes them truly glad they chose UMSL.

“I was kind of expecting to get to college and have everyone be here for class and then go home, but everyone is very friendly and willing to stop and have a conversation,” says Penrod.

She often sees classmates at her on-campus job in the Recreation and Wellness Center and is also impressed with the environment in the Pierre Laclede Honors College, where she feels a little bit ahead of the game thanks to those ACP classes – like freshman composition – which she already completed.

“The honors college is so friendly,” Penrod says. “You can really build relationships because of the smaller class sizes, and the teachers are just amazing. I love them.”

Nguyen, too, has already had great experiences with teachers in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“My general psychology professor, Dr. Siciliani, has been so helpful. She’s really wonderful at answering questions during office hours in a relatable way. She’s just really a great teacher.”

When asked whether it has been challenging as commuter students – yet one more thing they have common – to get involved on campus, Penrod and Nguyen offer the same answer: No. It really hasn’t.

Nguyen says the Weeks of Welcome events have been really helpful and that Paint-A-Palooza in particular was a lot of fun.

“It was something that we could all just join together for. There’s always something going on that can help you find common ground with other people.”

Penrod points out that her peer mentor in the Multicultural Student Services program, junior Amy White, has been absolutely invaluable. Coincidentally, White is Nguyen’s mentor as well, and she has helped both students by inviting them to activities, referring them to campus resources and generally checking in to make sure their first semester is going well.

One last thing that Penrod and Nguyen agree on is their appreciation for the cultural diversity on UMSL’s campus – an aspect both are enjoying after having spent much of their time in the more rural parts of the St. Louis area.

“It’s an eye-opener for me,” says Nguyen, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam before she was born. “There are so many diverse cultures represented here at UMSL, and different types of people who are passionate about different types of things. I really like that.”

With so many positive experiences to reflect upon after only the first month of classes, Nguyen and Penrod already have some great advice for future freshmen, who may be uncertain about the transition into college life.

“Stay open-minded,” Penrod says. “Welcome the surprises and be open to starting conversations with new people.”

Nguyen’s advice goes right back to those ACP courses that started it all.

“Definitely take the advanced credit courses. They help no matter what major you’re interested in. It’s like getting a discounted price for college, and it will help ready you for the environment.”

The UMSL Experience

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Jami Hirsch

Jami Hirsch

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming
Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.