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 a lot of extra 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 school principal who promoted education for African-American students in Howard County, 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.
"I know there's nothing that's going to stop me," said Mullinix, a North Laurel resident who plans to maintain a 3.5 grade-point average, transfer to Salisbury State University and train to be a teacher. "That's what I want to do, and I'm not going to take the easy way out."
The students 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.
He's teaching them what to expect in college.
"Be punctual," he warned. "A couple of you were late today; that's not a good trend."
HCC officials created the Silas Craft Collegians Program to reach some of the substantial number of students who, every year, leave without finishing their degrees or transferring.
"It's been such a difficult problem for colleges and universities across the nation to tackle that they kind of say, 'Well, I don't know what we can do about it,'" Cornell said. "We decided to tackle the bull by the horns."
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.
"We can't be satisfied seeing students coming and going and not understanding why they don't stay and persist," Roberson said. "We need to understand."