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The University of Pennsylvania Rising Scholar Success Academy (PennRSSA) is a free, virtual, postsecondary access program designed to prepare rising Philadelphia’s rising high school seniors for the pivotal next steps of educational and career pathways in a post-pandemic world.

PennRSSA is led by Dr. Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum (Vice Provost for Student Engagement), Allison LaFave (Predoctoral Fellow), and Dr. Enmanuel Martínez (Postdoctoral Fellow). All program courses are hosted in Open Canvas for Penn Learners and made possible through unique collaborations between the Provost’s Division of the Vice Provost for Student Engagement and the twelve schools of the University.

 “We are tremendously grateful to Monique Breaux and her colleagues for their patient guidance and encyclopedic knowledge of Open Canvas. Any Penn affiliates who are anxious about utilizing Open Canvas should know that they don’t have to do it alone.”

PennRSSA staff

Since Summer 2020, PennRSSA has provided two summer program options:

  1. PennRSSA “Summer Academy”: The Summer Academy is a rigorous, six-week, virtual summer program that uses a combination of synchronous and asynchronous programming to deliver high-caliber academic, vocational, and college preparation content. Students are taught in small cohorts led by University of Pennsylvania graduate and professional students. Those who successfully complete all components of the PennRSSA Summer Academy (i.e., robust attendance and participation, satisfactory grades in all courses) receive a completion certificate and a stipend. Rising seniors in the School District of Philadelphia are also eligible for one elective high school credit.

In addition to live Zoom sessions, PennRSSA “Summer Academy” students enroll in four courses on Open Canvas:

  1. Applied Economics and Finance: featuring content from the Wharton Global Youth Initiative Understanding Your Money Course, with additional PennRSSA activities;
  2. Applying to College: a Canvas-based version of the Penn Admissions/Steppingstone Scholars “How to Apply to College” course on Coursera;
  3. Career Pathways: original content developed in collaboration with 11 of Penn’s 12 academic schools (Communications, Dental, Design, Education, Engineering, Law, Medicine, Nursing, SAS, SP2, Vet); and
  4. Telling Your Story: original content developed by PennRSSA, with elements from outside resources (e.g., The College Essay Guy) and 2021-2022 Common Application Essay Prompts.

This year, students will also complete a project-based Capstone Project, designed to hone their “power skills” for future careers. In 2022, the Summer Academy will serve up to 800 Philadelphia students.

OpenRSSA: This self-paced alternative to the Summer Academy program consists primarily of the “How to Apply to College” course created by Steppingstone Scholars and Penn Admissions. OpenRSSA participants are also encouraged to attend the Summer Academy’s weekly alumni career panels via Zoom. There is no limit on the number of students who can participate in OpenRSSA.

In Fall 2021, the PennRSSA team piloted a PennRSSA off-shoot for high school seniors called “Countdown to College.” 

In Spring 2022, the team plans to pilot a fourth offering, WorkReadyRSSA, a five-week asynchronous option for up to 5,000 participants in Philadelphia’s WorkReady program. Before their summer work experiences, WorkReady participants will have the opportunity to complete either the Applying to College course or the Applied Economics and Finance course.

Using Open Canvas is an intuitive platform for PennRSSA’s asynchronous coursework. According to Allison LaFave, Predoctoral Fellow:

 “In RSSA’s inaugural year, we were able to build out four polished and professional looking courses in a matter of weeks. Our staff and graduate assistants were also very comfortable with the Canvas platform, having used it for their own courses over the years. This enabled the PennRSSA planning team to hit the ground running with minimal training. Open Canvas enables us to collaborate on our courses with partners across Penn’s campus, many of whom contribute rich content modules and live sessions (recordings of which can be posted to the site). Thus, through our Open Canvas courses, Philadelphia students are able to access people and content from every corner of the university, therein reflecting Penn’s longstanding commitment to engaging in partnership with the local Philadelphia community !

For more information on PennRSSA and their initiatives, please visit their website.

Last Updated on September 23, 2022 by Ben Rosen

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