Vanderbilt ENGAGE program meets with huge success in its first year, High ability students get early admission to professional or graduate schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The call went out a year ago to high-ability high school seniors for a new program at Vanderbilt through which they could gain advanced admission to any of seven of its professional and graduate schools when they enroll as freshmen. No one expected quite the level of interest that resulted.

More than 470 students from all over the country applied to the ENGAGE Scholars Program, and nine students are now completing their first semester in the new Vanderbilt program. “ENGAGE” stands for Early Notification of Guaranteed Admission for Graduate Education, and the program is aimed at students with outstanding high school careers and a demonstrated commitment to graduate or professional school education.

“These nine students have the assurance that, with a continued record of academic success over the next four years, they are guaranteed a place in one of Vanderbilt’s nationally ranked graduate or professional programs,” said Lyn Fulton-John, director of the Office of Honors Scholarships and ENGAGE. She added that the students will be required to meet admissions criteria set by each of the participating professional and graduate schools.

The program emphasizes a broad liberal arts education, relieving participants from taking courses only to make themselves more attractive for acceptance into a graduate or professional program. Up to 50 percent of Vanderbilt’s baccalaureate graduates will go on to graduate or professional school.

"Vanderbilt has a distinct identity as a great university with a unique array of schools,” said Chancellor Gordon Gee. “The ENGAGE Scholars Program is a critical part of our plan to integrate the professional schools into the undergraduate experience, while ensuring that the students fully experience the best a liberal arts education has to offer," he said.

Of the nine members of the inaugural class of ENGAGE scholars, four are interested in going on to graduate school in engineering, three in management, one in medicine and one in law. Future participants in the program also may choose to pursue an advanced degree from the School of Nursing, Divinity School or Peabody College, Vanderbilt’s school of education and human development. The program does not obligate the students to enroll in those programs upon graduation.

While a few other universities offer early or joint admission to a single school or a limited number of programs, no other university offers such a unique array of choices of professional or graduate schools to its students as Vanderbilt.

The nine ENGAGE participants are Andy Alsentzer of Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville; Cory Carpenter of Dupont Manual Magnet School in Louisville, Ky.; Hayley Curry of Greater Latrobe Senior High School in Latrobe, Penn.; Alisha Davis of Spain Park High School in Birmingham, Ala.; Kirby Fine of Second Baptist School in Houston, Texas; Adam Lander of Rossview High School in Clarksville, Tenn.; Steve Searcy of Grissom High School in Huntsville, Ala.; Christopher Skene of Lawton Chiles High School in Tallahassee, Fla.; and Brian Wile of Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga.

Freshman Curry, like others in the group, has known what she wants to pursue for a few years. “I’ve wanted to be an attorney in the JAG (Judge Advocate General’s) Corps since about the 10th grade,” she said. “I was in a Youth in Government program, serving as an attorney and a supreme court justice, after which I was hooked. It’s a huge relief to know that I’ll have a place at such a great law school.”

Fine said the new program – especially the mentorship component – helped him decide to enroll at Vanderbilt, from among a half dozen colleges and universities he was considering. “I was always going to consider Vanderbilt, but this helped me get past not earning an undergraduate business degree,” he said. Fine said he hopes to earn an MBA from the Owen Graduate School of Management after finishing his bachelor’s degree and gaining some work experience.

Students in the program are free to pursue any undergraduate major but, as ENGAGE scholars, participate in an interdisciplinary program designed especially for them. They are assigned a faculty mentor from their selected professional or graduate program and participate, along with other ENGAGE scholars, in special programming ranging from group activities to forums on the professions. They also may elect to participate in activities at their chosen graduate or professional school.

“The ENGAGE program has at its core an emphasis on the liberal arts as the hallmark to excellence in the professions,” Fulton-John said. “We hope, with this program, to help create visionaries – scholars and leaders who will transform their chosen fields. We are committed to providing opportunities for these students to explore the fullness of the academic, social and cultural contexts in which they live and learn,” she said.

ENGAGE scholars also are guaranteed one paid summer academic enrichment experience while in the program. Scholars may choose from a wide array of research projects through the Vanderbilt University Summer Research Program, international study to develop language and cultural skills important across the professions or an independent study project designed with faculty assistance.

There is a significant benefit to the university as well; the program helps secure the best students in the country for Vanderbilt’s professional and graduate programs. The average SAT score of the first cohort of ENGAGE scholars is 1546; the average of the incoming class of 2009 as a whole is 1371.

The next round of applications, for the class entering in the fall of 2006, are due by Jan. 3, 2006. The application, which is separate from Vanderbilt’s freshman application, is available at

Media contact: Susanne Hicks, (615) 322-NEWS

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