Hilltop Academy offers special NH experience for incoming students

August 13, 2021

By Jason Kolnos

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig meets with Hilltop Academy Students
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig meets with Hilltop Academy Students

One of Saint Anselm College’s newest programs for first-year students, Hilltop Academy, has taken the summer experience to an exciting new level this year. The dynamic program gives members of the incoming first-year class, first-generation students and those with diverse backgrounds, the chance to take a unique class focused on exploring New Hampshire, in addition to a writing course that prepares them for the fall semester.  

On a pleasant afternoon in late July, a group of incoming Saint Anselm College students toured City Hall in Manchester led by Major Joyce Craig. They asked the first female mayor of the state’s largest city about local government, her American Rescue Plan ideas, and where to find the big scissors used for ribbon-cutting ceremonies. 

Professor Lori LaPlante with students
Professor Lori LaPlante with students

A week later during a blustery rainstorm, the students hopscotched across slippery rocks as they plucked snails, shells, and seaweed from tidal pools alongside Biology Professor Lori Laplante at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. All the while they were honing their writing and reading skills through rigorous coursework to get ready for the fall semester. 

Twenty first-year students and four student leaders from Saint Anselm participated over four weeks this summer. Some came from across the United States, including Georgia, Arizona, Texas, and New Jersey. The inaugural program in 2020 was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

This summer, Hilltop Academy really took flight. 

Students walk the Black History Trail of NH in Portsmouth, NH
Students walk the Black History Trail of NH in Portsmouth, NH

Students had the chance to visit historic cultural sites throughout New Hampshire, meet civic leaders from across the state, and become acquainted with campus resources. 

“We wanted to give these students a really rich, meaningful and robust experience prior to the beginning of their first year on campus,” said Benjamin Horton, assistant dean for first-year students and academic support services. “Hilltop Academy is this great way that students come together and connect intellectually, socially, spiritually and really get to know each other.”

Students enrolled in two courses throughout the summer, “EN290: Introduction to College Reading and Writing” taught by English Prof. Patrick Meighan and “HU203: The History, Landscape, Diversity, and Culture of the Granite State,” taught by Horton. 

After morning classes, they spent afternoons on all sorts of interesting adventures around the state. Highlights include hiking in the White Mountains and a trolley tour of Manchester that was guided by Millyard Museum Executive Director John Clayton. They also visited the Black History Trail of NH in Portsmouth and toured the State House in Concord, among many other excursions. 

Noah Gutierrez ’25, who is from Manhattan, N.Y., said becoming immersed in a different landscape than what he’s used to was eye-opening and rewarding. 

“New Hampshire is very different from the inner city of New York, so it gave me a chance to really get accustomed to what I’m going to be getting myself into over the next four years. I actually ended up meeting some of my teammates, some really close friends here, and it was a great opportunity all around,” said Gutierrez, who plays for the college’s football team

Several upperclassmen were also involved with Hilltop Academy to share their experiences and answer any questions. 

“This was important for me because, as a person of color and a student from a low-income background, I wanted to help the first-year students and guide them through their struggles and the things that I went through,” said Valeria Mendoza ’22, a senior student leader. 

Marilu McCambly, a senior assistant director of admission and coordinator of multicultural recruitment, who co-manages the program with Horton, said the ultimate goal of Hilltop Academy is to provide students with the skills necessary to navigate college life, as well as advocate for themselves should they need to during their time on campus.  

“One of the best responses I received from a student was that they didn’t see the value in the program at the beginning but by the end it all started to fall into place and they felt more prepared to start in the fall,” McCambly said. 

Several students said they appreciated getting to know Saint Anselm faculty and staff, some of whom joined the students on their travels. 

Allyson McMahon ‘25 enjoyed getting out into the community and experiencing some of the natural areas like hiking Artist’s Bluff in Franconia Notch, which features an overlook with lovely mountain views. 

McMahon said Hilltop Academy allowed her to “really make some connections that will last a long time.”

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