LEDA Summer at Princeton Guides High School Students on Path for Success

August 24th, 2016 / University Comm...

In a wood-paneled room in Princeton University's historic East Pyne building, 15 students sit among a circle of desks debating a question: Who was a more effective leader, Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X?

"In terms of effectiveness, I'd say one is not better than the other because they both served the purpose of a practical movement," said Bessie Bauman of Olathe, Kansas.

"I'd say they were both great leaders," said Gregory Billingsley of Belzoni, Mississippi. "What separates the two were their visions, or the goals they had in mind. They achieved their respective goals effectively, though in my opinion, one goal was more well-rounded than the other."

Other students add their varying opinions, making clear they spent time studying the topic. While such thoughtful discussion is typical of a Princeton classroom, the participants are not in college. Rather, they are high school students in the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) program.

President Eisgruber and LEDA student

Ahmed Ahmed of Maryland poses for a photo with President Eisgruber, who told the LEDA Scholars that he wants to ensure a greater range of students have the opportunity to attend and thrive at Princeton. (Photo by Nick Donnoli, Office of Communications)

LEDA is an independent nonprofit dedicated to developing the academic and leadership potential of exceptional public high school students from low-income backgrounds. One hundred high school juniors from across the country recently spent seven weeks on Princeton's campus for LEDA's Aspects of Leadership Summer Institute.

"Our primary mission is to diversify the leadership pipeline in this country," said Beth Breger, LEDA's executive director. "We want to create a diverse group of young leaders and our means of doing that is by helping talented, low-income students gain access to and succeed at the country's most selective colleges and universities."

LEDA's six-year program supports high school students as they begin the college search process through their graduation from college. LEDA's leadership institute includes classes where students study historical and contemporary examples of leadership. LEDA's six-year program supports high school juniors as they begin the college search and application process and continues during their time as undergraduates.

As a foundation, LEDA Scholars spend the summer taking classes on leadership, receiving one-on-one college counseling, preparing for standardized tests and honing their writing skills. Breger said hosting the summer institute at Princeton is a key aspect of the program.

"Being on a college campus really helps our scholars believe that they could attend, as well as feel welcome and succeed at, a highly selective school like Princeton," Breger said. "The only options presented to them in their high schools may be their local community colleges or state schools. We want them to understand that schools like Princeton really want them to attend, and they also can be more affordable than a state university."

Princeton's support of the program goes back to 2005, when LEDA's inaugural summer session was held on campus. In 2014, the University increased its support — enabling LEDA to expand participation from 60 to 100 Scholars a year — as part of Princeton's ongoing commitment to increase the socioeconomic diversity of college students.

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