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Corbin: There’s life-changing power in a second look

By Nicola Corbin - | Apr 24, 2024

Photo supplied, Weber State Univesity

Nicola Corbin

“The feature article and the cover photo reminded me of your award-winning essay of 20 years ago. … You were way ahead of your time.”

The email came from my mentor in the honors program at my undergraduate institution in June 2022. She had been reading a newsmagazine article and it triggered a memory, one that now has me thinking.

Have you ever been given a second look, which led to an opportunity, which then led to you achieving a dream or a goal? As we approach another graduation season, I’ve been reflecting on how life-changing second looks can be.

You see, that email from my honors adviser would never have happened if there hadn’t been a program in place 29 years ago at that university to take a second look at my college application. I was a new immigrant whose home country’s high school grades — in the top 10% of my class — translated here to Ds and Fs. My paper story was not that of the traditional college student. Thankfully, my application was sent to a program that gave it, and me, a second look.

I was brought in for an interview and learned how dismal my transcripts were. The counselor who conducted the interview plainly told me that, on paper, I did not meet the standards for the university. The tears pooled in my eyes, and I remember thinking that perhaps I could get a job at McDonald’s.

Then came the “however.” My SAT scores muddied the picture that the grades painted. He said if I successfully completed the program’s summer institute as a conditionally admitted student, I could be fully admitted to the university. Well, that crack in the door was all I needed. By fall, a few of us from the program were offered spots in the honors program, where I connected with this professor. She encouraged me to submit a class essay to a journal, and it won an award.

The program that granted me this second look was established from funding designated by the New Jersey Legislature following the 1967 riots in Newark to provide systemic opportunities to educationally and economically disadvantaged folks.

It was designed to support students with varying needs throughout college. It was where I found my first job as a tutor, where I became a resident assistant and AmeriCorps volunteer who helped first graders learn to read. More importantly, it was where this brand-new immigrant found friends, a community and counselors who deeply understood the social intricacies that my intersectional identities as an immigrant and a Black woman brought. This second look put me on the path to Weber State University.

Recently, efforts such as these have been moved to the cultural front burner and restricted. Honestly, it has been painful to imagine higher education without such programs designed to give a second look. As varied as our lives are, there will always be as many reasons to do so. For each of us, our paper story will never be our entire story, nor the final word on our potential. Imagine all the human talents we deprive the world of when we refuse to take a second look.

I’m proud to work at Weber State, an open enrollment university, whose faculty and staff look beyond our students’ paper stories so that people from all walks of life are able to achieve their academic dreams. And, when they celebrate their accomplishments at commencement in a few days, many of our graduates will be doing so because Weber State’s mission calls us all to take a second look.

Nicola A. Corbin is an associate professor of communication at Weber State University, where she teaches public relations and mass media courses and directs the university’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.


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