On June 3, a group of 93 ninth graders from the Manhattan Early College for Advertising (MECA) gathered in Richard Harris Terrace on the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) main campus to deliver the final presentation of their month-long “Visual Thinking and Food Truck Project.”
Each student team presented an idea for a food truck, including a logo and marketing plan. They had even created a model food truck out of paper.
“The goal is for them to problem solve and think critically,” says Carol Sun, MECA’s Visual Thinking Lab Instructor and Work-Based Learning Coordinator.
High school and college, concurrently
MECA is a partnership between BMCC, the NYC Department of Education, The City University of New York (CUNY) and industry partners from the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
MECA students begin taking college courses at BMCC in 10th grade, explains Gregory A. Bryant, BMCC’s Early College Liaison.
“Their first class at BMCC is Fundamentals of Speech, stretched over the course of a fall and spring semester,” he says.
Then, in 11th grade, the students take an introductory course at BMCC in each of three majors: computer programming, multimedia arts and business/marketing.
All three academic areas, Bryant says, relate to the field of advertising, which is the high school’s workforce focus.
Over a six-year period, MECA students earn a high school Regents Diploma and a free associate degree from BMCC. They will visit advertising agencies, complete multimedia projects and gain skills that prepare them for entry-level positions in the field.
Other CUNY colleges involved in the Early College Initiative include Queensborough Community College, Brooklyn College, City College, LaGuardia Community College, Hostos Community College, Kingsborough Community College.
“We chose advertising as the focus for MECA because the advertising field is very divergent,” says MECA Principal Matthew Tossman.
“It has opportunities for students interested in business, digital technology, media strategies, creative work, web design, writing, marketing and a lot of other areas.”
Guided by the teacher at their table, each student took a role in presenting the proposed food trucks, which sold hot dogs, cupcakes, hot apple pies, Mexican food, Polish food, marshmallows and other food items.
One student stood at a computer, narrating her team’s marketing strategy and creative ideas. One administered the rubric they used to evaluate each other’s presentations, and another acted as a timekeeper. A Q&A session followed each presentation.
“We tried to model the format on the roundtable presentations you see at academic conferences, where the attendees ask questions and have a conversation with the presenter,” said Tossman.
Part of a continuum
MECA ninth grader Nathan John commented that the food truck project was a good experience, but spoke even more enthusiastically about his mentor from BMCC, business administration major Shaquille Blake.
“He helps me with geometry,” John said. “He breaks it down for me. I used what I learned with him yesterday on the Common Core exam. That felt really good.”
Blake tutors MECA students through the Urban Male Leadership project at BMCC and assists MECA teachers in the classroom.
“It’s about building relationships,” he says. “I look at the students and think, ‘That could have been me’.”
Principal Tossman speaks highly of the BMCC mentors, and their impact on students.
“I could advise a student, say the same thing with exactly the same words, but when they hear it from a mentor who is closer in age, they’re more likely to absorb it,” he says.
As for why they are having their year-end presentations at BMCC, “We take every opportunity we can, to familiarize them with the college environment so they can make a seamless transition,” he says. “It elevates them, to be here. It validates their work.”
BMCC Dean of Academic Affairs Erwin Wong agrees.
“These are our students,” he said, referring to the busy room of MECA ninth graders.
“We’re all part of a continuum together. The hope is that they will come here and feel comfortable right away. They’re already part of the fabric of BMCC.”