/* */ <img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1706078429670727&ev=PageView &noscript=1"/> /* */

Early Start students return from D.C., program achieves intended purpose

October 28, 2022 - Beth Brauer

Twenty one first-year students in James Madison College are poised to check off more items on their Spartan Bucket List than the average Spartan and, without a doubt, they could easily reinvent that list, tailoring it for any student interested in a career in public affairs. Students participating in JMC’s inaugural cohort for Early Start, a bridge program serving first-year JMC students from a variety of minoritized backgrounds, have experienced more in the last two plus months than most students pack into a full year.  

Beginning with an early move-in to Case Hall on August 24, Early Start students spent the next several days participating in events and activities designed to help them acclimate to campus and get acquainted with one another.

two people sitting at a table speaking
JMC Alumnus Stephen Purchase and Early Start student A'lvinia Spicer chat during a networking activity for students and alumni. Photo by Dane Robison.

Highlights from their first week included meeting JMC alumni, faculty and staff during meet and greets, networking mixers and academic sessions. For A'lvinia Spicer, a graduate of Lincoln High School in Warren, Michigan, the alumni mixer held at The Graduate hotel, was especially meaningful.

“I made so many connections and received so many business cards, and they weren't just for show! I reached out to a couple of people, and they responded promptly, giving me information I needed,” Spicer said, “It was awesome.”

Early Start’s ambitious itinerary included activities like touring Michigan’s Capitol and Michigan’s Supreme Court, strolling along Grand River in downtown East Lansing, trying various flavors at the MSU Dairy Store and learning about important MSU resources and programs.

In addition to recreational events like a picnic dinner at Lansing’s Hawk Island Park, students attended seminars and Q&A discussions with campus partners Vincent Delgado, director of the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Program on Sustainability in Costa Rica, and Cara Ludlow, the Alcohol and Other Drug Program coordinator in the Office of Student Health and Wellness.

students standing in rotunda upper level
Early Start students visiting Michigan's Capitol. Photo by Noon Bannaga.

When it came to conversations about careers in law, media and government, all the bases were covered. Not only did students meet with staff from the Office of U.S. Senator Gary Peters, but they also had conversations with Rep. Julie Brixie (69th House District) and Senator Mallory McMorrow (13th District) both on a video phone call and then when they randomly ran into her on the steps inside the Capitol building.

Early Start was made possible because of JMC alumnus Troy Calkins (IR ’88). As a first-generation college student, Calkins recognized that students who had the tools and resources to navigate common challenges fared better than those who were not part of supportive communities. For Calkins, establishing a program to help increase feelings of belonging and community was one way he felt he could make an impact.

Calkins met with this year’s cohort during a session designed to provide insight about careers in the private sector. After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School, Calkins was a partner for Drinker Biddle and Reath, LLP, and later served as general counsel and EVP for Workiva.

Students in the background and alumnus Troy Calkins listen to speakers at an Alumni Mixer
Alumnus Troy Calkins listens to speakers during the Early Start Alumni Mixer held at The Graduate. Photo by Dane Robison.

Early Start programming continued beyond the first weeks of classes with excursions to see the musical “Hamilton” in Toledo, Ohio and a trip to Grand Rapids for Art Prize. But the event that appears to be the real showstopper was spending fall break in Washington D.C. (Oct. 22-25), the most highly anticipated event for Early Start students.  

“Early Start Program activities offer a lot of firsts for me. When we go to D.C, that will be my first time out of state and on a plane, so that's very exciting,” said A'lvinia Spicer.

With staff and faculty chaperones, students flew from Detroit to Washington D.C. for a four-day trip that included tours of the Library of Congress and D.C. landmarks and visits to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Association for the Education of Young Children and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Students were also treated to a visit at the Federal Reserve where they met with Board Governor Lisa Cook, JMC professor of international relations and economics.

At the program’s helm includes Brian Johnson, assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion; Florensio Hernandez and Jahshua Smith, DEI specialists; two student staff assistants: Noon Bannaga (CCP/IR ’24) and Safiya Webster (SRP ’23); and JMC assistant professor Melissa Fore.

Often, the first few weeks of college are the most critical. “Students are adapting to being away from home, navigating a new campus, making friends and adjusting to a university curriculum. I designed each aspect of the Early Start program as a way to help ease the transition and provide a sense of belonging entering James Madison College,” Johnson said.

Bannaga, who has been a research assistant for Associate Dean and Professor Linda Racioppi, transitioned to a role with Johnson’s team to support the efforts needed to get Early Start off the ground. “The program stands for helping students acclimate to college life, which is never easy. I’ve enjoyed interacting with all the students and being able to serve as a mentor,” Bannaga said.

“It was very important to me that each student felt like they belonged and understood how to navigate James Madison. I have no doubt these students were better equipped to deal with the challenges they will encounter.”  

Organized and supported by JMC’s Office for Justice, Equity and Inclusion, Early Start is accomplishing what it was intended to do.

students standing in front of Lincoln Memorial in D.C.
Early Start students stand in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Photo provided by A'lvinia Spicer.

“I don't want to sound mushy when I say that this is one of the best opportunities I've received thus far, but the Early Start Program has been nothing but a supportive, loving community that I am so thankful to be a part of,” Spicer said.

To learn more about Early Start, visit JMC’s Office of Justice, Equity and Inclusion.