“Being a part of this group, I feel like I have a connection with everyone here”

When Angelica Navarro stepped onto the IU Bloomington campus for the fall semester she felt empowered.

As part of IU’s Groups Scholars Program, Navarro started her freshman year with six weeks of college/academic experience under her belt and almost 400 new friends.

Angelica Navarro

Angelica Navarro

“A lot of freshmen come here and they are so overwhelmed,” said Navarro. “But I already know where all of our classes are, and I have friends not only from my hometown but people I’ve met through Groups. I’m not going to be alone. I just feel really prepared and confident.”

The Groups Scholars Program was established in 1968 to increase college attendance among first-generation, underrepresented IU students. Part of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, the program provides academic, financial and social support to selected underrepresented Indiana college students from freshman year through graduation.

Students spend six weeks during the summer before their freshman year living on campus and taking courses in critical reading, math and English composition while also becoming familiar with the campus.

Starting with just 43 students, Groups Scholars now has 379 students, the largest class in the program’s history. It has also maintained a 98 percent retention from the summer to the fall for two years in a row, the highest rate in the program’s history.

“These students are remarkable, not only academically but they all have the drive, determination and dedication to be future leaders,” said program director Mary Tourner.

For Navarro, her dream wasn’t only to attend college, it was to attend IU specifically. Although her parents had to forgo college in order to raise a family, they pushed Navarro to pursue her education.

Spending hours in her high school’s guidance counselor’s office, Navarro waited for a program that would help her achieve her dreams.

She found the answer in Groups Scholars.

“I came here with a fresh mind, but I was also nervous,” she said. “Groups has helped me so much. It helped me become more independent, meet and network with great people that I would have never known, manage my time and build my confidence. It has helped me realize that as long as you work really hard and have faith, you really can achieve great things.”

Tomi Lawrence

Tomi Lawrence

Tomi Lawrence, a South Bend native and Groups Scholar, also found confidence and comfort in the program.

Raised by a single mother of four, Lawrence always knew she would attend college. She also knew it would take some work to get there.

“Financially, everything wasn’t the best at home, but I knew I wanted to go to college and I had the grades and the ambition to get here,” she said. “My mother and my teachers encouraged me, and struggling is the biggest encouragement. When you want to do better than where you came from … that’s encouragement all in itself.”

Like Navarro, Lawrence feels prepared starting her college career at IU, thanks largely in part to the Groups program.

Not only did the summer program prepare her academically for the type of work that will be required of her, but Lawrence said it also provided her with a network of friends and supporters she feels lucky to have.

“I think of Groups as a family,” she said. “Being a part of this group, I feel like I have a connection with everyone here.”

For Navarro, that sense of family is a great source of comfort as she heads into a new journey.

“When we see fellow Groups members in classes, we know we can go to those people and create study groups or use them as support,” Navarro said. “We know who we can lean on. We know we can go to the Groups office whenever we need help.”

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