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Feature

Ernest Davenport.

Ernest C. Davenport, Jr., is an associate professor of educational psychology in the College of Education and Human Development.

ACT/SAT prep course helps students bridge the achievement gap

Public engagement spotlight

By Stephanie Wilkes

Brief, Sept. 27, 2006; updated Oct. 4, 2006

Ernest Davenport joined the University's educational psychology faculty in 1986 with a research focus on standardized testing--measurement, statistics, and data analysis--especially as it relates to minorities.

Twenty years later, on any Saturday morning all winter, you'll find Davenport in a campus classroom, not with college students, but with high school students, many who never thought of themselves on a university campus. The students come because of a free ACT/SAT review session.

Davenport comes because he's on a mission. His academic interests make him a strong contributor to the program, but it is his personal interest and dedication to public engagement that really fuels his passion.

"My personal ministry is to see as many minority students as possible be successful in college," he says.

The Twin Cities chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha--the first African-American fraternity, celebrating a hundred years in 2006--developed the idea for the program in 1991. They contacted Davenport, a graduate member of Alpha Phi Alpha, and asked him to contribute, helping to provide structure to their program.

"My personal ministry is to see as many minority students as possible be successful in college," says Davenport.

The first year, 24 students of color from local high schools attended a free ACT review session at the University of Minnesota. By 2006, the program had grown to serve more than 150 students a year, reaching beyond the Twin Cities to greater Minnesota. Today it offers a comprehensive ACT/SAT review course and more--presentations about college admissions and first-hand stories of University faculty, staff, and students. Davenport, associate professor of educational psychology in the College of Education and Human Development, is the program's director.

The 11-week course, held in Blegen Hall on Saturday mornings from January to March, provides an extensive look at the ACT and SAT. Students review material covered on the exams (science, math, English, vocabulary, reading, writing) are expected to keep up with a rigorous homework schedule between sessions. The course teaches ways in which the material will be presented on the exams and offers multiple mock exams to build student confidence.

Ernest Davenport helps a student in the classroom.
Davenport helps a student in the Saturday classroom. "He brings passion to the program," says colleague Jeffrey Tate.

The course is also dedicated to giving the students an experience that will allow them to envision themselves in a university environment, an option many have not considered before. Faculty and staff visit the sessions to talk about aspects of college admissions and life at the University. Admissions officers tell students what they're looking for in prospective students. Professors like Frank Snowden, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, speak to the students about opportunities available to them at a prominent research university.

Many program participants have returned later as student volunteers. Jeffrey Tate, now associate director of the program, is one of them.

Tate acknowledges the importance of the volunteers and presenters to the success of the program, but he says Davenport is the main reason for its success.

"He creates a dialogue with the students and the presenters, constantly asking how we can make the program better," says Tate. "He brings a passion to the program that makes it phenomenal."

To learn more about the program, see "Narrowing the achievement gap one student at a time."


Stephanie Wilkes is a junior in English and linguistics and a communications intern in the Office for Public Engagement. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail wilk0268@umn.edu .