Group Photo - PCA students, Tiffany, Yezenia


At the end of July, 15 students from BTE sites in Englewood, Florida; Ewing, New Jersey; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Warsaw, Indiana participated in the 5-day Pathway to Success Pre-College Academy (PCA), co-hosted by FHI 360 and The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) at TCNJ in Ewing, New Jersey. For most participants, not only was this their first time traveling, but it was also their very first time living on a college campus and with a roommate!

Designed as a one-week summer immersion and college-preparatory program, the PCA supports BTE youth in the U.S. as they prepare to apply to and transition into higher education. Participants experience life on a college campus, engaging in a seminar-style course, completing service activities, identifying majors and courses of study, and completing higher education and workplace application requirements. They do this all while enjoying fitness, recreation, wellness, and cultural enrichment activities. Perhaps the greatest highlight of the program is the opportunity to connect with and learn from BTE peers from around the country!

In 2023, as in previous years, Johnson & Johnson Corporate sponsored a Pre-College Academy (PCA) for BTE students entering their final year of BTE programming with plans to enter higher education after high school.

Participants hit the ground running this year, with full-day programming throughout their week-long experience. After initial icebreakers and teambuilding activities, including a challenging escape room, PCA participants took on their first college writing session. These classes were designed to introduce participants to college application requirements, including the Common App, as well as the writing requirements for post-secondary applications. Throughout the week, students worked on their college application personal statements with the support of an experienced instructor and undergraduate mentors. Designed to mimic college seminar courses, participants also engaged in FHI 360’s Becoming Champions for Change learning series, which is designed to give youth a grounding in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) definitions and encourages them to engage in high-level activities connecting DE&I with communication, culture, and empathy. Through eModules and a series of seminar-style sessions, PCA students engaged in activities that introduced and explored culture, encouraged respectful conversation, and inspired meaningful reflection and learning. Listed as one of the top PCA experiences, one student shared, “The Becoming Champions for Change classes were very engaging and it made me self-reflect and be aware of myself.”

In addition to classroom and TCNJ campus life experiences, PCA participants had the opportunity to visit two additional New Jersey institutions of higher education: Princeton University and Rutgers University-New Brunswick campus. During campus visits, they had the chance to meet with university admissions teams, learning the in’s and out’s of college admissions and how to set themselves apart as competitive college applicants. University student ambassadors also facilitated campus tours at each campus; PCA students had a chance to explore college classrooms, libraries, recreation areas, and common areas. Through these visits, they were also able to explore the juxtaposition of a diverse set of colleges and universities, thus helping to showcase the importance of campus visits, developing an understanding of campus curriculum and degree programs, and taking the time to build connections and ask questions to set oneself up for success in the future.

Group Photo - PCA students, Tiffany, Yezenia

PCA Students with Tiffany, Destiny, and Yezenia at J&J Headquarters

During their time in New Brunswick, NJ, PCA students had a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is not common for most BTE participants: the chance to visit Johnson & Johnson World Headquarters and meet directly with the Johnson & Johnson Bridge to Employment Global Lead, Yezenia Ramos, Senior Manager of Global Community Impact. Yezenia took the time to meet with the PCA students as a group, but also individually. She even joined the group as they completed a scavenger hunt at J&J’s Powerhouse Museum, where they learned all about J&J’s history, their leadership in the medical and pharmaceutical fields, and their impact within the New Brunswick community and worldwide. During their visit, they also learned about the J&J Credo and how BTE is a living example of the Credo in action, with employee volunteers giving back to the communities in which they live in work. In an effort to live the Credo themselves, PCA participants engaged in not one, but two Credo service activities, thus giving back to local communities in the area. Students had a chance to serve at Trenton’s Capital City Farm, where they helped prepare winter crops. They also had a chance to pack hygiene kits for Hope for Health & Hygiene, founded by BTE alumna and fellow Pathway to Success participant, Aliyah Saleem. These hygiene kits will be distributed to those in need of personal care products within the community.

While this year’s Pathways Pre-College Academy was certainly packed with valuable college and career readiness programming and experiences, the program made sure to add in time for some fun. PCA youth visited Grounds for Sculpture, which is a museum, sculpture garden, and arboretum all-in-one. Students explored the natural grounds which were immersed with a variety of art and sculptures and even peacocks! They participated in a wellness workshop where they learned yoga and different breathing exercises to help become grounded, and also had the chance to enjoy an evening painting activity and countless rounds of Uno and other games during evening reflection sessions.

We could not be more proud of this year’s PCA participants. Not only did they travel away from home to meet their extended BTE family for the first time, but they committed to an intense schedule that maximized every waking hour of the five days they had together. Each PCA participant fully immersed themselves and exceeded all expectations of the program, walking away feeling confident and prepared as they embrace their soon-to-come higher education journey. Participants agreed this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the highlight of their summer, with one parent also sharing, “It’s wonderful to see the kids grow, dream, and come into their own. This opportunity was wonderful and they made incredible friends. Thank you for providing a safe environment to allow our adults of the future to learn more about the world around them, and also about themselves!”

This year’s Pathways Pre-College Academy was a tremendous success. We look forward to bringing this cohort back together this fall for their first Pathway to Success online forum, where we can continue to learn and grow together!