November 20, 2015 | Matt Kucinski

Hasani Hayden (front row, second from right) graduated from Entrada in 2014 and is now attending Harvard University.

During the summer of 2014, Hasani Hayden, then a junior from Kelloggsville High School in Grand Rapids, Mich., was selected to attend the Boys Nation Conference in Washington, D.C. He was one of two state senators representing Michigan in a mock government situation. During his time in D.C., he met President Barack Obama.

But when Hasani looks back at the highlights of the summer of 2014, meeting the commander-in-chief doesn’t top his list.

“My highlight of that summer was still Entrada,” said Hayden. “I am still friends with people from Entrada; it was a life-changing experience.”

A gateway to higher ed

The Entrada Scholars Program, which started at Calvin in 1991, is a month-long academic achievement program designed to provide ethnic minority juniors and seniors in high school with the necessary tools for successful college enrollment and completion.

Since its inception, more than 1,100 students have graduated from Entrada, with 96-percent of those students choosing to pursue higher education. Nygil Likely, director of pre-college programs at Calvin, says Entrada is one way the college shows its commitment to ensuring that students who are academically talented have access to higher education.

“We are working to give all students access to higher education, regardless of income, color or creed. It shows our renewed commitment to diversity and how it contributes to the flourishing of God’s kingdom,” said Likely.

A shared commitment

And that commitment is shared by those who help make the Entrada program happen, including among many generous donors, Meijer Corporate, which, this past month, agreed to double their gift to the program. This commitment of $100,000 per year for the next three years will allow the Entrada program to add an additional 25 students to the program annually.

“I’m thrilled that this show of support has come,” said Likely of the Meijer gift. “It will allow us to do more good in the community, across the country, in terms of serving underrepresented populations in the higher education setting.”

“Our dad always believed that greater educational opportunities are invaluable,” said Hank Meijer, co-chairman of the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based retailer. “We are pleased to help the Entrada Scholars Program at Calvin College enroll even more students who are interested in pursuing their goals in higher education.”

An environment of excellence

When Entrada started in 1991 it welcomed about a dozen students. The program’s growth over the years, combined with the increased gift, will allow about 100 students to attend beginning in 2016.

Hayden, one year removed from the program, is studying economics at Harvard. He credits Calvin’s multiple pre-college programs that he participated in beginning in elementary school in helping prepare him for the rigors of college, especially the Entrada program.

“One benefit of Entrada is the program selects qualified students, creating an environment of excellence. Being around successful students drives you to do your best,” said Hayden. “Your profs don’t hold back, they expect you to do real work. I appreciated that because it prepared me for the work I’m doing in college.”

A faith-integrated approach

Jeremy Smith, a 2010 graduate of the Entrada program, graduated in 2015 from Calvin College. He’s now working as an account manager for Civic Solar, a solar design and distribution outbase, which Smith says is the fastest growing distributor in the industry. He said that while at Calvin, he was taught to think deeply to “try and find the why behind the what that was happening,” and he was provided a faith-integrated worldview, which he said helped him better understand that learning in a broader world wasn’t as separate as he thought it was. “It kind of bridged that gap between Sunday and Monday,” said Smith.

“Entrada helped me better understand why it matters where you go to school and that having a tool kit for how you think is just as important as what you think,” said Smith.

For Marquicia Pierce, who went through Entrada in 2001, her pre-college experience solidified in her mind that she wanted to pursue higher education. Now, eight years later, with a degree from Purdue University and a PhD in molecular physiology and biophysics from Vanderbilt University, Pierce is on the teaching staff in Calvin’s biology department.

“Entrada set up a framework for integrating my faith with the biology field and my interest of trying to navigate those types of difficult areas. And it also reinforced my enthusiasm for science,” said Pierce.

An opportunity to build relationships

Now teaching at the collegiate level herself, she also reflected on the value of connecting with professors even before coming to college.

“Through Entrada you see how the classroom is setup and the different study habits you should employ,” said Pierce. “You gain a better understanding of what it takes to effectively communicate with your professors. Being able to see the professors and talk to the professors can ease your transition to college.”

Likely says that the feedback his office receives from the Entrada program consistently hits on the academic and spiritual growth of students and the lasting friendships that are made in just one month’s time. And the fact that in 2015 almost two-thirds of the Entrada staff was alumni of the program shows their commitment to creating a gateway to college for the next generation of scholars.

Hasani Hayden

Jeremy Smith

Marquicia Pierce

Jeremy Smith has returned to help with the Entrada Scholars Program in various leadership roles.

Marquicia Pierce received the Distinguished Entrada Alumni Award. Here she's picture with pre-college program staff members Nygil Likely, Rosalba Ramirez and Tiffany Norde.

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