As a freshman at North High School, Elaundra Nichols knew she would someday go to college—she just wasn’t sure what that would look like or what it would take to get there.
An excellent student in math and science, Nichols figured she’d go to a state school—probably the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she attended several summer science camps, or the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Then, Nichols spent a week at the College of Saint Mary Summer Academy the summer before her sophomore year.
“I didn’t even know College of Saint Mary existed before I attended that camp—and it changed my opinion about attending a small school that’s also an all-girls school,” says Nichols, now a second-semester freshman at CSM studying science to become an occupational therapist.
As a young African-American woman, the ability to surround herself with other African-American women was important to her, and to College of Saint Mary.
“One of the things we try to show people who come from these two populations (African-American and Latina) is that if you have an interest, if you persist, you can do it,” says Summer Academy Coordinator Alexis Sherman.
“That experience changed my life in many ways because not only did I learn about CSM, but I also saw and listened to other African-American women who went to CSM during the camp. It completely changed my outlook in many ways.”
Nichols says she learned about the camp (there also is a separate camp in the summer for young Latina women) from a guidance counselor at her school.
Word was out that CSM was looking for African-American students interested in science, so she filled out an application and paid the fee — a mere $25 for the whole week.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “This was a full week. Plus, all of the presenters and counselors at the camp were African-American women and students. I was really excited but also a bit apprehensive at first.”
Like many camps on college campuses, Nichols was quickly immersed in the college experience—living in the dorms, eating at the cafeteria, attending regular sessions and meetings, etc.
At CSM, Nichols immediately loved the forensics and coding classes she took in the mornings. She was drawn to meet and interact with other African-American women.
In the evenings, fun activities brought campers and counselors together to share stories, ideas, experiences, and dreams.
“Almost all of the counselors were CSM students, so it was a great experience to learn about science, but also learn about their experiences in college as women, and African-American women,” Nichols says.
“The speakers they brought in were really amazing, with great stories and experiences. It made it very easy to understand where they were in their lives in relation to where we would be in a couple of years.”
Nichols says she returned to the camp the summer after her junior year, and enrolled as a full-time student at CSM last fall. She participates in student senate and HALO (Honorable African-American Leadership Organization), and works in the CSM Student Leadership Office.
Nichols is excited once again for this summer’s CSM Summer Academy because she’s returning as a counselor.
She can’t wait to pass along all that she’s learned to the next group of young African-American women.
“I’m really looking forward to being as helpful and inspirational to them as the counselors were to me when I was attending as a student,” says Nichols, who keeps in touch with many of her fellow campers and counselors.
“I felt very empowered during my time at the camp, and I want these young women to see how powerful and smart they can be. The goal is to get them all on the right track to go to college, and I want them to know that there are options for them just as there were for me.”
UNL Big Red Summer Camps
Summer camps on UNL’s Lincoln campus also offer experiences that coordinator Lindsay Shearer says “give kids an opportunity to explore what college has to offer.”
UNL camp themes include: chickens, culinary arts, engineering, entrepreneurship, filmmaking, outdoor Nebraska, veterinary science, weather and climate science, and unicameral youth legislature.
“It’s an opportunity to explore what college has to offer. They get a chance to interact with faculty in their chosen field,” Shearer says.
This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.