High School Sophomores get college exposure from LSU


Playwriting. Poetry. Comics. Broadway. Dance theory. Music history. Whether it is through painting faces, making clay jars, or putting together a theatrical masterpiece, local high school students are taking LSU’s offer of self-exploration. 

Focusing on College and Unlimited Success, known as FOCUS, is a student organization within theHonors College. Students in FOCUS plan and participate in a two-week program, which concentrates on arts and humanities. FOCUS opens its doors to sophomores who attend under-resourced high schools in East Baton Rouge.  

“We recruit students from public schools in EBR that have high free or reduced lunch percentages,” said Mark Dochterman, student activities coordinator for the Honors College. “They struggle comparatively with ACT scores, and most have had an arts or humanities program cut back within the past five years.”  

According to Megan Miclette, director of alumni relations for FOCUS, the goal is to provide high-achieving students from under-resourced schools the same opportunities their peers in better-funded schools have. FOCUS then provides college immersion, which gets the students excited about school after graduation.  

For LSU students in FOCUS, the program begins in the spring semester each year. Students who wish to be leaders in the program must apply and are interviewed by directors of the program, Miclette said.  

“To become a seminar leader, you must be able to display why you have relative expertise in that field,” Dochterman said. “Our creative writing seminar leader is a creative writing major at LSU, but our dance instructor is not a dance major. She happens to have over ten years of formal dance training.”  

During the spring semester of each year, Miclette said FOCUS leaders prepare for the program by taking a class on the history of education in Louisiana, pedagogical theory, and the practical aspects of what it takes to run a program like FOCUS. The class also requires a service-learning component of 15 hours.  

During the summer portion of the program, the Honors College students are referred to as leaders—either a seminar leader or a group leader. The seminar leaders are responsible for planning daily seminars in six categories: studio art, dance, theatre, music, creative writing, and philosophy. The group leaders serve as mentors for the high school students and accompany them to meals, seminars, and group activities. Group leaders are also responsible for creating different seminars, which are based around their own talents.  

“The students participate in all of the seminars, including the group leader-led nightly seminars,” Miclette said. “However, they are given the opportunity to choose a ‘focus,’ which we look at similarly to a major in college.”  

High school participants pick a subject from one of their six core seminars as their focus. Each student spends two hours every day working with a specific seminar leader to come up with a project, which is presented at the end of the program—which is known as “Final FOCUS Friday.”  

“My favorite part about FOCUS is Final FOCUS Friday,” Miclette said. “They’ve blown me away and brought me to tears every single year. To see the creativity, passion, and hard work the students have put into their projects really hammers home the entire reason why I participate in FOCUS.”  

High school students who wish to participate in FOCUS apply to the program similarly to the way a graduate applies to college.  

“They fill out an application that directors of recruitment bring to high schools that participate,” Miclette said. “Directors of the program review the applications and accept the students we feel would benefit most from FOCUS.”  

During the weeks of the program, admitted high school students stay in dorms on-campus. FOCUS leaders take turns staying in the dorms, acting as resident assistants for the students.  

Aside from the lessons they learn in the seminars, the high school students take away other benefits such as confidence, problem solving skills, independent thinking, and leadership skills.  

“Our goal is to motivate each high school student to work hard to reach whatever their future goals may be, especially when so many outside sources are saying success is not something they can achieve,” Miclette said  

FOCUS is usually held the last two weeks in July, in order to fit around other camps and summer school. The program is free for the eligible high school students and is sponsored by Shell Oil Company and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. This year was the fifth year for FOCUS. The program had 24 high school students and 24 leaders from the Honors College. Dochterman said they try to keep the students and leaders one to one.  

The future of the FOCUS program looks strong. Dochterman and Miclette share the idea of hosting FOCUS on multiple campuses.  

“I would love to see LSU’s student body become more aware of FOCUS,” Miclette said. “Outside of LSU, our goals are to expand FOCUS to other campuses around Louisiana in coming years.”

Holly A. Phillips | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations
July 2009