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Classes will soon start in the new Boston College program for low-income, first-generation students

Classes will soon start in the new Boston College program for low-income, first-generation students

Messina College, a new two-year associate degree granting program at Boston College, will open to its first class of students in July. It is intended to help low-income, first-generation students earn a degree in a supportive environment. At the end of their two years, students who have maintained a GPA of 3.4 can enter the regular Boston College undergraduate program. They hope for an entry class of 100 students.

The college will be located on the former campus of Pine Manor College, a mile and a half from Boston College’s main campus in Chestnut Hill. This will be something that sets Messina apart from other similar programs: offering a fully residential experience. There are similar two-year associate degree programs at other Catholic universities, such as Arrupe College, affiliated with Loyola University Chicago, but they are all commuter schools. Students will take one class on the main campus each semester of their sophomore year, but otherwise their classes will all take place in Messina.

“I tell people that the establishment of Messina College brings us back to our roots as an institution,” said Jesuit Fr. Erick Berrelleza, dean of the new university. Boston College was initially founded to serve the children of Boston’s poor Catholic immigrants, and Berrelleza worked with schools in some of the most disadvantaged communities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to recruit students. While not all incoming students are local, the majority are, the school says.

This also reflects the legacy of Pine Manor College, which closed in 2020 following the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic but had primarily served low-income and first-generation students. Continuing that practice was part of their agreement when they merged with Boston College.

Messina College is committed to generous financial aid, which officials say is notable in a year that has seen significant delays with the federal financial aid application. Berrelleza said there have been students who chose Messina when they attended a four-year college that didn’t offer as large an aid package. Due to Boston College’s desire to build a residential cohort, only students who have just completed high school are admitted, meaning no deferred admission or gap years.

Antonio Serrato-Capuchina, a geneticist, will be one of the new faculty members. “I wanted to work with communities that need upliftment,” he said.

“There is a difference between saying things and doing things,” Serrato-Capuchina added, saying he is happy to be part of a community of educators who, like him, have spent their entire careers working with underprivileged students. He previously worked at Project Uplift, a summer program to introduce rising high school students to the college experience, while a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has done other educational work introducing young people to the science.

His goal will be to get students used to synthesizing information, not just repeating it, and to show them how to deconstruct a complex idea. He currently teaches advanced courses as a lecturer at Boston University, but he is pleased to be able to introduce the scientific method in introductory courses to students who may have never been exposed to it before.

But an important part of Messina College’s vision is recognizing and supporting students beyond the classroom.

As an immigrant and first-generation college (and high school) graduate himself, Serrato-Capuchina said he knows the barriers students can face in academia. “I want to increase students’ confidence,” he says. Berrelleza said they plan to focus heavily on mentorship and said the goal is to “help (students) navigate this transition to college and through the college experience and be successful at it — it’s not always a matter of academic success.”

Serrato-Capuchina said students sometimes feel “insufficient to even apply” for jobs or internships, and he hopes he can help them overcome that — and connect students to the many opportunities in science that can be found in the Boston area. Students are expected to complete an internship or clinical rotation in their second year, with the intention that if they do not wish to continue with the four-year bachelor’s program, they will be prepared to enter the job market.

Four associates degrees will be offered, in applied data science, applied psychology and human development, general business administration and health sciences. Students will also complete a core curriculum aligned with Boston College’s general requirements, to facilitate an easy transfer process to the main campus if desired. This includes English, mathematics, social and natural sciences, history and art – as well as philosophy and theology. The theology course will have a service-learning component.

“Faith is absolutely involved in what we plan to do here,” Berrelleza said. He added that “faith lives not only through our campus ministry, but also through our mission and ministry offices, and our first-year experience office,” seeing everything as working together to promote and instill the same values.

There will be a chapel and an active campus ministry presence, including a resident campus minister. “The Jesuit effort focused on education, which was an advantage for me,” Serrato-Capuchina said.

“There’s a lot of support and a lot of excitement about Boston College being so intentional,” Berrelleza said of the faculty’s response to the program. He wants to ensure that Messina College offers the same level of academic quality as students elsewhere in the university, and that faculty determine which courses will be part of the core curriculum.