UMass Boston – Urban Scholars is a year-round pre-college program preparing academically striving Boston high school students for college enrollment, success, and completion.

Key Takeaways

  • For students to self-regulate, they must be given the environment and freedom necessary to do so in a way that lets them feel autonomous and safe.

  • Relationships are very closely connected with Self-Regulation; having staff and mentors who students can relate to and who genuinely have the students’ best interests at heart is necessary.

  • Incentivizing students, if possible with a stipend, can mitigate the opportunity cost of attendance which can in some cases be very high otherwise.

  • Come to students where they are; don’t be afraid of texting or Snapchat. Students respond well when they are allowed to communicate on platforms they are comfortable with.

What do you find to be the most effective way to handle a situation when an individual is having a problem or is upset?


It’s all about relationship building. In this industry and especially this program, it’s really about getting to know students and building trust with them. When you do that, after you’ve built certain relationships and trust with students, it’s much easier to see them and talk to them as a human being, instead of as a boss or a teacher. Trying to empathize with them is the goal, and if you really are genuine with that, and genuinely want the best, and genuinely have the best intentions, they know that, and it’s much easier to talk to them in difficult situations. And you always have to challenge yourself to think about the end result. Especially if the end result is them being more disconnected as opposed to more connected to a program. If ultimately you’re kicking a student out of the program, there had better be a really good reason for it.

Best Practices:

  • Keep programs relatively small in size
  • Maintain high staff:student ratio
  • Serve the same students for multiple years to develop meaningful relationships if possible
  • Hire staff that come from the same backgrounds as students, to whom students can easily relate

High School Focus:


High school students can tell if staff are not engaged and not genuine in their interactions with students in a program. If staff are not committed to students and to regulating themselves in their interactions with students, the students will in turn fail to self-regulate.

If there are issues with behavior or problems the students are having, do the students have a role in remediation for that, and if so, what’s the scope of that?


Not formally, in a lot of cases. It really is anomalous to have many problems with students, and I think that comes from being careful with culture-building. Making sure that all the staff understand that mentoring is a huge part of their job, which includes not only tutoring, but modelling appropriate behavior as well. Another important aspect of that is having staff who come from the same backgrounds as students, and keeping an open mind to behavioral norms of other cultures that a diverse staff would be aware of and accepting of.


Another important part of creating a culture and environment that helps students self-regulate and reduce issues, is flexibility, and giving students as many choices as possible. By putting in flexibility to the extent possible — in terms of class or workshop selection, which days they want to attend, or other areas — allows them in a gradual, developmental way, to regulate themselves.


These efforts have really been geared to our two main goals in the past two years, which are to make a space that students want to come to and are not forced to come to, and to make things easier for them. This can be done in many ways, for instance, offering students a stipend to attend mitigates potential opportunity costs to coming, like getting a part time job. Also, reaching to students where they are, whether that is by text message or on Snapchat, allows them to communicate in ways that are comfortable for them, which will foster productive communication. If a program can succeed in these two things, Self-Regulation follows, because in an environment that meets these two goals, students are given the opportunity to self-regulate, which is the most important step in getting them to do so.

Best Practices:

  • Build an environment in which students feel comfortable and safe to preemptively mitigate potential problems students may have
  • Hire diverse a staff that reflects the student population
  • Accept, be open to, and encourage Self-Regulation of all kinds, rather than imposing a narrow view of it
  • Allow for student choice, feedback, and autonomy
  • Don’t be afraid of Snapchat




Urban Scholars is one of several pre-college programs that UMass Boston has. Their mission is to prepare students from their partnering high schools for success in high school as well as for enrollment and completion of higher education. The students that work within Urban Scholars are academically striving, and often enter the program with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Urban Scholars is a year-round initiative that works with students for multiple years throughout high school, and then tracks them for six years through college and support them, especially through the first year of college.