Nearly 60 incoming University of Central Florida freshmen are a step closer to academic success thanks to a summer program that introduces them to the college experience.

SOAR, short for Seizing Opportunities for Achievement & Retention, consists of tutoring, advising and classes to strengthen students’ core academic skills. By addressing and improving writing, math and study skills early on, SOAR helps to foster success and progress in college.

“SOAR is like an embassy in a foreign country for students,” said Erik Range, coordinator for the six-week campus program.  “We try to make the transition from high school to college as seamless as possible.”

This summer, 56 students are enrolled in SOAR, which has been offered by UCF’s Multicultural Academic & Support Services (MASS) Office since 1980. Participants in the invitation-only program are first-generation and multicultural students, as well as those from low-income families, chosen by UCF’s Undergraduate Admissions Office.

During the program, students complete the required freshman classes English Composition I, Intro to Communications and Strategies for Leadership and Success. They earn credit for the courses, and through SOAR, they get extra support.

After four days of classes and tutoring, students engage in fun, spirit-building activities during Friday leadership seminars, where they participate in social games and listen to guest speakers.

At the seminars, they learn about UCF’s campus and its services before the hustle and bustle of the fall semester begins, said program assistant Deborah Watkins. An alumna, Watkins also is a SOAR graduate.

“After I finished the program, I felt like an ‘upper freshman,’ because I already knew so much about UCF,” said Watkins. “SOAR gave me a sense of belonging. It was the first group in college that I could call a family.”

SOAR also exposes students to opportunities outside of college with annual field trips to the headquarters of large corporations such as Universal Studios and the Orlando Magic.

This summer, SOAR students will visit the Westin Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla. They’ll take a behind-the-scenes tour and enjoy a golf lesson as they learn about possible careers in hospitality and golf resort management.

“Being in SOAR has created friendships, mentors and resources that I can rely on now and after I finish the program,” said incoming freshman Kristina Joseph.