This summer, 60 high schoolers from Newton and Putnam counties are gaining insight on the college admission process and life at Emory University  through the inaugural Oxford College Summer Experience Program, which is being held from June 21-25. Each county sent 30 students to participate in the program. 

Outgoing Oxford College Dean Douglas Hicks announced the free, five-day residential program the week of May 26 in an agreement of mutual understanding signing ceremony with Newton County School System (NCSS) superintendent Samantha Fuhrey and Putnam County Charter School System (PCCSS) superintendent Eric Arena. 

“We see the program as an opportunity to engage our local school systems and provide a unique chance for students to learn about college life, particularly students from our local area,” Oxford Director of Community Relations Laura Gafnea said. 

PCCSS Community Liaison Rev. Avis Williams (78Ox, 98C, 08T, 18T), one of Oxford’s earliest Black graduates and an active member of the Oxford College Alumni Board, was heavily involved in the program’s establishment. 

A self-proclaimed “proud product of the Newton County School System” who still lives in Newton County, Williams has an extensive background in fostering partnerships between students, parents and the community. She has spearheaded other efforts in the past to expose high school students to college, including a summer program for PCCSS students at Albany State University, which is historically Black, in 2018 and 2019.

“Sometimes, students in traditionally underserved communities may not have the opportunity to visit colleges,” Williams said. “I think it is our responsibility to help them see what their opportunities are and what they need to do to be successful beyond high school to realize their dreams.”

Williams initiated conversations with Hicks about how Oxford could engage students from Putnam and Newton counties, which inspired the program. Both counties fall below the Georgia median household income and per capita personal income according to 2019 data.

“I was like, ‘Why don’t we expose students to the best university in the world — Oxford and Emory,” Williams said.

From there, Williams has worked with Oxford administration, as well as Fuhrey and Arena, to make the program a reality.

According to Gafnea, people from across campus are contributing to the program, including Oxford faculty, the admissions team, and campus life. 

There was a high level of interest for the program from prospective students, NCSS College & Career Specialist Stephen Woodall said. In total, 233 applications from highly qualified students were submitted for Newton County’s 30 spots. 

“It is Emory University — the brand, the name of the college and its reputation speaks for itself,” Woodall said. “You are talking about a top 25 university in the U.S. and a popular university internationally.” 

Some of the Newton County students are potential first-generation college students. Woodall said that the opportunity to start planning for college would be “life-changing” for these students especially.

During the signing ceremony, Arena noted that the program will level the playing field for Putnam County students.

“Being able to create partnerships with Oxford and other higher education institutions [is important] so that our kids, regardless of zip code, can dream and understand that with hard work and partners like Oxford, they can compete and succeed anywhere in the world,” Arena said.