Inspired by A.S.P.I.R.E.

The pilot year is successful for a program developed to help improve rural students’ college entrance exam scores – and encourage their pursuit of majors in agriculture and life sciences.

The results are in.

As its pilot year drew to a close, the A.S.P.I.R.E. program, designed to bridge deficits in rural students’ scores on the ACT College Entrance Examination, saw a significant average score improvement for its participants.

A.S.P.I.R.E. stands for ACT Supplemental Preparation in Rural Education. This program is an initiative offered through N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and North Carolina Cooperative Extension. While housed in the Prestage Department of Poultry Science, A.SP.I.R.E. is a CALS-wide initiative devoted to helping students from rural areas in the state who may be interested in pursuing agriculture or life sciences degrees.

And in the program’s first year, “overall, through the A.S.P.I.R.E. course, we saw an average score improvement of 3.5 on ACT’s 36-point scale,” said Mindy Herman, poultry science master’s degree candidate, who, with N.C. State MBA student Rachel Huffman, oversees the daily operations of the program. Herman also is writing her master’s thesis on the A.S.P.I.R.E. program.

Herman and Huffman are responsible for the recruitment visits for A.S.P.I.R.E. students, planning and oversight of the agent master trainer course and the marketing of the program.

The Executive Director of A.S.P.I.R.E. is Dr. Ken Anderson, CALS professor and Extension specialist within the Prestage Department of Poultry Science, who directs the implementation of the program.

The program was created in December of 2011 under the direction of Dr. Jackie Golden who was the undergraduate teaching coordinator and professor in the Poultry Science Department at the time of initial program implementation, Herman said. A.S.P.I.R.E. is currently being offered in 32 counties across the state with 44 trained agents.

N.C. State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Aspire 2 higher educationThe A.S.P.I.R.E. agents are Cooperative Extension agents and high school faculty members, Herman said. “Their training took place in Durham at the Princeton Review’s headquarters. They completed the Princeton Review’s 24-hour master trainer course, where they were taught how to actually teach the ACT test prep.”

The ACT College Entrance Examination (ACT originally stood for “American College Testing”) assesses students’ academic readiness for college. It consists of four multiple choice tests in English, mathematics, reading and science and can also include a writing test.

The establishment of A.S.P.I.R.E. came about because “it was noted that there were many students from rural communities all across North Carolina who were interested in coming to N.C. State and majoring in an agriculture or life sciences degree. However oftentimes these students were not successful in gaining admission into N.C. State due to their low College Entrance Examination scores (SAT and ACT scores),” explained Herman.

“That’s what led to the development of the A.S.P.I.R.E. program…to provide ACT test preparation to rural high school students across North Carolina to improve their ACT scores, in order to increase their chances of being accepted into college.”

The pilot year began with an informational meeting with prospective agents to talk with them about what the program entails and how it could help their home counties, Herman said. After the agents decided whether the program fit with their counties’ needs, they attended the master trainer course.

“This is where they learned how to actually teach the ACT test preparation to rural high school students,” she said. “After the A.S.P.I.R.E. agents go though the master trainer course, the A.S.P.I.R.E. staff begins the recruitment process within those counties.

Recruitment varies across all counties, and we try to cater our recruitment venues and activities to the specific counties.”

Typical recruitment involves Herman and Huffman traveling to high schools and talking to classes or groups of students. “We talk about college admissions and how the A.S.P.I.R.E. program can help them improve their ACT score,” said Herman. “We also talk about the different opportunities and the wide variety of degrees available within CALS.”

If students are interested in participating in the program and improving their ACT scores, they apply for the A.S.P.I.R.E. class in their counties.

Students are selected for the classes based on their GPAs, class standings and anticipated college majors. Selected students then participate in a weekly class, accumulating up to a total of 30 hours of instruction, she said. “The A.S.P.I.R.E. agent will teach the students the latest skills, tactics, and strategies they need to know to maximize their ACT scores.”

As part of their A.S.P.I.R.E. participation, she said, students receive a Princeton Review study manual, the Princeton Review 1,296 practice questions booklet and the Princeton Review selective college admissions booklet. And they have the opportunity to take four practice ACT diagnostic exams.

“The students also receive a score analysis and breakdown of their responses and scores for all four of the practice exams,” said Herman. “This enables the participants to see which areas they are strong in and which ones they are weak in — which allows them to pinpoint their study time and efforts on the specific subjects they may need to improve their scores in the most.”

A.S.P.I.R.E. participants receive access to all of the Princeton Review’s online resources, as well.

At the same time, those students interested in curricula offered in the College have the opportunity to ask their A.S.P.IR.E. instructors questions about N.C. State, CALS, College admissions and any other College-related questions, Herman said.

“We have also prepared an A.S.P.I.R.E. booklet, which goes through all of the CALS majors and gives a description of the major and course work. It also provides potential job opportunities within the major.” This extensively detailed outline of the College and its curricula is accessible online at

A.S.P.I.R.E. participants can also avail themselves of the opportunity to attend a joint Spend a Day at State and A.S.P.I.R.E. day, Herman said. “During these visits, A.S.P.I.R.E. students get to sit in CALS classrooms, tour campus and speak with CALS students and professors.”

Herman has found that working with A.S.P.I.R.E. has been educational for her, as well.

“Through this program, I have learned valuable program planning, management, and evaluation skills that I can utilize in any future career endeavor,” she said. “When I initially started working with A.S.P.I.R.E., I hoped to one day work with Cooperative Extension. This program works with the Cooperative Extension and allowed me to better understand and see how the Extension system worked and operated.”

Meanwhile, Huffman, her A.S.P.I.R.E. colleague, “would like to one day go into a marketing position within an agricultural business. This correlates with the A.S.P.I.R.E. program nicely, as she deals with its marketing and business portions.

“Through working with the program, Rachel and I were both able to learn how to plan, manage, oversee and administer the daily operations and functions of a program.”

But what Herman finds most rewarding and takes the most pride in with A.S.P.I.R.E. is the success stories that have already come in.

“We have received numerous emails and letters from parents and students to inform of us of their ACT successes and to show their appreciation for this excellent program offered through CALS,” she said.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to help combat the statewide score deficit on college entrance examinations.”

—Terri Leith

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