On Wednesday, March 6, the American ideal of upward mobility went on exhibit. About 80 students and faculty members from at least four of the Commonwealth’s community colleges gathered in room 163C of the Lincoln Campus Center for a day of orientation, recruitment, communication, and financial advice about attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Engineering or Department of Computer Science. The event, the 39th annual Community College Day, was a showcase for young people in Massachusetts pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.

“These are some of the most academically determined students anywhere,” said Greg Brown, the assistant dean for undergraduate advising and the director of transfer affairs at the College of Engineering, “and using the public higher education system to its full advantage.”

Typically these students don’t blow their big chance at higher education. Students from community college backgrounds have an 85 percent retention rate at the College of Engineering, as compared to a 70 percent retention rate for general freshmen admissions.

A large proportion of the community college transfers are either students of color or other students with economic barriers to overcome. In fact, community colleges provide the College of Engineering with its largest proportion of non-traditional engineering students, meaning those who are women or students of color or both. Such students are using their own grit, determination, and the Commonwealth’s higher education system to better themselves and see their dreams come true.

Community College Day is also one of the main venues for the College of Engineering to recruit talented minority students from Massachusetts.

Students attended from the following community colleges: Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Greenfield Community College, Holyoke Community College, and Springfield Technical Community College.

The agenda was designed to orient potential transfer students to the College of Engineering (including the Chemical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Departments) and the Computer Science Department and familiarize them with the process they will go through for acceptance into UMass Amherst.

After a welcome speech to all the participants, the first session from 9:45 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. was an admissions information briefing. Then, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., a panel of current students who have transferred from community colleges to UMass Amherst talked about their own personal experiences getting here and adjusting to the university environment. Finally, after lunch, participants took lab tours of the College of Engineering and Computer Science Department from 1:15 p.m. until 2:30 p.m.

“We look at the community college system as one of our best resources for developing mature, highly motivated students from all walks of life,” said Brown. “It’s not only a great opportunity for the students, but a great opportunity for the College of Engineering and the Computer Science Department.” (March 2014)