Get involved with Access Program

Abgail Taitano doesn’t sit still. She walks quickly from room to room in the upper floors of McIntyre Hall chatting with tutors, engaging older students and making sure the younger ones don’t get too rambunctious.

The atmosphere is hectic and informal, but the business is serious: preparing Tacoma youth for higher education.

As the director of the Access Programs, Taintano is responsible for bringing students from Tacoma schools together with tutors from the University of Puget Sound on Tuesday evenings, as well as running summer programs, plugging higher education in local schools and forging individual connections with all involved. When we finally sat down for an interview, the two-hour session was nearly over, and Taitano took a few minutes to discuss the goals of the Access Programs with me.

One of the most important aims of the Access Programs is “increasing the amount of under-represented students in higher education,” she said.

This is a stated goal of the Student Diversity Center, and the Access Programs represent the Puget Sound diversity policy in action.

Although the programs center on tutoring, Taitano pointed out that she was also involved with “access to college days and career days.” A summer academic challenge is also offered as well as in-school workshops and field trips.

“It’s really all about prepping students,” she said, emphasizing the importance of a personal approach. “I have individual relationships with all these students.”

I also asked Taitano about the advisability of pressing students toward four-year colleges.

“There’s no cookie cutter student. I’m just about higher education… My push is to make sure minority students are out there in the workforce, in the schools, giving back to the community,” she replied.

One of those students is Tifphanie Wooten, a former tutoring attendee, who now helps out from the other side of the desk.

She explained her presence by saying, “I want to give back to the program that helped me get here. I wouldn’t be here [at Puget Sound] without this program.”

She said that on most nights, around 15 students and 10 tutors show up. This high ratio is another aspect of the Access Programs that helps build one-on-one relationships. This means that students end up with something more than just an academic resource.

“We’re here for them,” Wooten said.

I talked to another tutor, Nathan Lander, while he waited for a student in need of math-related help. It is his second semester with the program. Lander also emphasized the value of the personal and informal tutoring setting.

“It’s really satisfying working with students one-on-one. Some days I’ll help the same student for a couple of hours.” He went on to say, “What I think is good is that it’s sort of casual. It allows [the students] a place to be productive.”

Several of the younger students were also excited about the opportunities tutoring offered, with a gaggle of voices eager to explain that “when I come here I study, I have no computer at home… it’s fun and I want to learn… there’s people who pay attention to me.”

The Access Programs aren’t well known on campus, and Taitano is always looking for more volunteers. Although she cautions, “it’s not for everybody,” getting involved can be a great way to connect with the local community.

If you are interested in affording others opportunities and guidance that can help them succeed, and gaining an “out of the bubble experience,” visit the Access Programs’ office in room 215a of Howarth Hall to learn more.