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FDTC RUSH Program Empowers Students for the Future

PHOTO: R.U.S.H. Program's biology coach, Dr. Julius Oyekan sets up an interactive forensic activity for a student.

The RUSH (Removing Underserved Student Hurdles) Program at Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC) helps its students succeed by tackling hurdles encountered inside as well as outside of the classroom.

The RUSH Program assists its students on their educational journey through free tutorial services, academic advisement, career counseling, job shadowing, a book/laptop loan program, workshops and much more. It serves first-time freshmen enrolled in STEM and healthcare programs. An extension of the program, RUSH CTE, serves career and technical students and welcomes walk-ins for tutoring services.

When a student approaches the RUSH staff, they become a member of the tight-knit family. The staff tutors the student on classwork and helps them prepare for a life beyond college as they market their selves for a job as soon as they graduate from FDTC. RUSH regularly hosts workshops that help students create resumes, cover letters and learn how to dress and participate in a job interview.

“A lot of our students, especially on the CTE side are not your traditional English and math students,” said Ashley Prosser, RUSH CTE counselor. “That’s typically not what their main need is. They’re looking for how to market themselves in order to get a job. For our Welding students specifically, we came up with a career readiness series, and the first one was ‘Resume and Cover Letter’. That was immediately relevant to them and to those fields.”

The RUSH staff also helps its students tackle issues outside of the classroom that may be affecting their ability to concentrate on coursework. They help the student develop good practices that will help them not only be employable but stay employed. Students learn about time management and even have the opportunity to attend credit score seminars through the RUSH Program.

“Our students go through so much,” said, RUSH Program Coordinator, Dr. Andre Boyd. “We try to teach them how to respond to life. We teach them that you have to face it, but you don’t have to accept life the way that it is. I think that all of us find ourselves in a place where we have a mindset of scarcity, because we have few limited resources, and we don’t always think the way we should.”

Students these days have a lot on their minds and have to deal with scenarios that are happening in their lives outside of the classroom, such as finding transportation to the college or solidifying a warm meal in-between class. Add those stresses to testing anxiety, and a full day at the college can be very overwhelming. The RUSH staff tackles those issues by helping the students relax and mentally overcome the challenges in their lives.

“A lot of our students come in, and sometimes they’re just stressed out,” said Shelanda Deas, RUSH counselor. “We want them to relax and learn about different techniques that can help them in the long run.”

A really unique way students can relax is through virtual reality (VR) therapy. Today’s young generation grew up on technology, playing video games and learning how to use mobile apps. Students can now be digitally immersed in a VR world, which helps them escape reality for a few moments. The VR applications can also be fun and educational.

“On the VR subject, that is particularly amazing because most students aren’t exposed to it in their everyday lives, so they’re super excited about it,” said Mariah Spigner, RUSH ELA Coach. “We have the opportunity now that even when they’re not necessarily playing with an educational app as such, we can still educate them on this is how VR works, and this is why it works. Even the fun is educational.”

While RUSH offers an array of services to its students, the program does concentrate on STEM learning. Earlier this year, students placed machine learning and artificial intelligent bots on a Raspberry Pi, which is essentially a credit card sized computer that can plug into a monitor or TV. Students connected a camera to the Raspberry Pi and taught it to identify various details and objects in the room.

“With just connecting a camera, we could teach the computer to identify a phone, the color of the wall and anything else in the room,” Dr. Boyd said. “It has the sophistication to program and teach itself. The students started exploring how the camera can detect emotions of a person, whether they are frustrated as opposed to being perplexed or frightened.”

The Raspberry Pi project not only allowed the students to work with cutting-edge technology on an advanced level, but the actual language that communicated between the devices was actually written in the classroom. Students literally learned how to write code to solve an assignment.

“The students built it,” said Dr. Boyd about the coding used in the classroom. “The students designed it and made it up. They didn’t buy it, and they didn’t download it.”

At the end of the day, the RUSH program prepares its students for the real world through the transferable skills developed in the classroom. Students within the program are empowered and learn that the more knowledge they can obtain, the more marketable they will be upon graduation.

“We just help them understand that you have to be more marketable,” Dr. Boyd said. “There are things that you can do now to generate wealth and revenue for yourself before you graduate and after you graduate.”

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