Brian Mullinix once thought high school was a joke and college was an unattainable dream.
Then he changed his mind and improved his grades. Now, starting his first semester at Howard Community College, the 17-year-old is certain he will succeed.
HCC officials hope so, too, but they're not just hoping - they're making sure Mullinix has help to see him through to graduation.
Along with 23 other teen-agers, he was picked for a new program that supports students whose high school performance didn't reflect their potential.
The Silas Craft Collegians Program is named after the late Silas E. Craft Sr., a principal who promoted education for African-American students in Howard, and, its founders say, it's unusual.
Most well-developed support programs at colleges - those that follow participants from day one to graduation - are for honor students. HCC's program targets the average student with promise and a desire to do well.
The students, who are scheduled to be Silas Craft Collegians for three years, say they're ready for the academic challenge.
They started this semester two weeks early with goal-setting, a retreat and an assessment of how they learn best. Now, they're taking a regular course load.
During the next three years, they will receive peer reinforcement, personal attention, additional tutoring and mentoring, increased support from advisers, and cultural enrichment activities.
"The students are very pumped and full of energy," said Pam Cornell, program director and a professor of human development. "I can see that potential - all we've got to do is tap into that."
In a class Thursday designed specially for them, members of the group discussed communication styles and talked about ways to be successful in school.
Instructor Joe Mason calls it "Freshman 101," a human-relations course focusing on character building and self-improvement.
His manner is easygoing, his voice calm. But this will be a by-the-syllabus class: Stay on top of the work, meet deadlines, get to class in time for roll call.
HCC officials created the program to reach some of the substantial number of students who, every year, leave without finishing their degrees or transferring.
Ron Roberson, vice president of academic affairs, said the scholastic profile of Silas Craft Collegians, who are nominated by high school educators, is similar to that of the average HCC student who's fresh out of high school. If the collegians program can help these 24 students succeed, he hopes it can expand some of the strategies to help the entire student body.