Connecting the Dots
Outreach Programs Point Idaho Youth Toward College Education
From an early age, Amanda Smith knew she wanted to go to college. But whether her life path would lead her there, she wasn’t so certain.
“Even though I knew it was something I wanted to do, I was on the fence on whether or not it was something I would realistically be able to do,” explained the native of Coeur d’Alene. “I thought that if my parents didn’t go to college, then maybe I wouldn’t be able to go, either.”
Family finances were tight. Her father worked unstable jobs in the area lumber mills, and her mother worked as a school paraprofessional. Smith’s parents encouraged post-secondary education for her and her younger sister, but a college fund was simply outside the budget.
With her family’s financial challenges and lack of college experience, Smith was unsure what her future would hold. A college education seemed out of reach. But in the sixth grade, she was accepted into the University of Idaho Educational Talent Search (ETS) program, and her life was set on a different course.
“It was a life-changing opportunity for my family and me,” she said.
The University’s Educational Talent Search is designed for students like Smith who are from disadvantaged backgrounds and show potential to succeed in higher education. Through the program, Smith explored career options, visited college campuses, received financial and academic counseling, and was guided through the college application process.
“ETS changed my mindset and opened my eyes to so many possibilities,” Smith said. “I was able to go to the college of my choice because of all the help I was provided with finding scholarships along with all the other necessary means that were needed for me to enroll. Without the program, I wouldn’t have been as educated about all of the opportunities that are out there that helped get to where I am today.”
An Ambitious Goal
Smith graduates from UI this spring with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. She represents the thousands of students in Idaho who have gone on to earn a college degree, thanks to the support they received through UI’s many outreach programs designed to direct K-12 students toward higher education.
The programs contribute to the state’s effort to increase the number of its citizens who graduate from college. In 2012, the Idaho State Board of Education established the Complete College Idaho Plan, which set the goal that 60 percent of Idahoans ages 25-34 will have a degree or certificate by 2020.
It’s an ambitious goal, considering fewer than one in four Idahoans older than 25 have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. But it’s a critical one; Idaho ranks 39th among U.S. states for the number of adults who hold some type of postsecondary degree.
“We must grow talent in our state to fuel innovation and compete economically,” the Complete College Idaho Plan states.
To help the state reach this goal, the university leads programs to ensure college readiness and remove common academic, financial, cultural and family barriers to a college education.
“In order to increase college enrollment and degree attainment, we must continue to cultivate those populations who have not traditionally gone on to college,” said Scott Clyde, director of TRIO, a college preparatory program in the UI College of Education.
The College of Education’s TRIO program operates seven federally funded projects, including Educational Talent Search, all designed to prepare and motivate Idaho’s low-income, first-generation individuals for postsecondary education. Each year, the programs reach more than 2,000 students in 24 Idaho schools. The program also serves people beyond high school through partnerships with community agencies in a number of Idaho counties.
Upward Bound is among TRIO’s most well-known projects. The program serves more than 250 scholars in eight Idaho counties and the Yakama and Coeur d’Alene reservations. Free of cost, Upward Bound offers high school participants weekly advising sessions, tutoring, financial aid workshops, field trips to colleges and universities, community service projects and annual summer college simulation programs on the UI campus.
“We try to provide experiences that further expose them to the campus culture and rigors of a college education,” Clyde said. “It familiarizes them with the process and makes them more comfortable with the idea of leaving their home environment.”
In operation since 1968, UI’s Upward Bound program is one of the longest existing and most successful college preparatory programs in the country. Of its participants, 87 percent go on to postsecondary education, compared to the state average of 38 percent.
“Once they have been motivated to go to college, they understand it as a viable option, and they are prepared academically. They are positioned to succeed in higher education,” Clyde said.
The College Assistant Migrant Program (CAMP) and Helping Orient Indian Students and Teachers (HOIST) program also play important roles in increasing college enrollment in underrepresented populations. CAMP targets students from migrant/seasonal farm working backgrounds, while HOIST is designed for Native American high school students. Both programs host summer campus visits, provide academic and scholarship support and help with college applications and admissions.“Migrant seasonal farmworkers have a national high-school dropout rate of 45-60 percent; it is critical to provide hope and resources to this population,” said Evelina Arevalos, CAMP assistant director. “UI CAMP serves students from these backgrounds in specific regions where resources for pursuing postsecondary education are limited.”
The Career Connection
It’s important to get Idaho’s youth to think not only about going on to college, but also about the careers they can pursue beyond the degree, Clyde said.
“Many of the individuals we serve are limited to employment opportunities that they see around them,” Clyde said. “We try to expose them to experiences that open their minds to various possibilities and help them understand that their career choices aren’t limited.”
The university hosts a number of camps that introduce youth to different fields of study and careers. For instance, the College of Art and Architecture (CAA) Summer Design Week on the UI campus gives students a preview of the design fields. High school sophomores, juniors and seniors experience a week in the life of a UI design student, with the opportunity to live in dorms and work with faculty on interdisciplinary design projects.
Additionally, CAA faculty and student ambassadors take an abbreviated version of Design Week on the road for High School Design Day. Students in ninth through 12th grade explore design majors and careers through hands-on design challenges. The camp is offered at high schools in Coeur d’Alene, Boise, Sun Valley and other areas throughout the state.
“Participants get to see beyond their art class in high school,” said Phillip Mead, CAA faculty member and coordinator of the camps. “The camps allow them to experience design in a broader context and help them connect their interest in design to an actual profession.”
UI’s College of Engineering is also active in its outreach to Idaho’s youth. For example, every year the college welcomes 500 high school students from around the state to campus for the annual Engineering Design Expo, which showcases engineering seniors’ capstone design projects. High school participants get to explore the types of projects they could work on in college and as a professional engineer. They also get a preview of campus life and network with UI faculty and industry representatives.
“They get to see firsthand the types of projects engineers work on, and how that work can impact people directly,” said Joseph Law from the College of Engineering. “Once they see what engineers do, they think it’s really cool, and they want to take part in it.”
Women in Engineering Day is another popular event. Every year, the free, one-day workshop brings 75-80 female high school students to the Moscow campus. Participants work together on an engineering design challenge, meet engineering students and professional women engineers, and tour engineering labs on campus to learn about degree and career options.
“Our pre- and post-event surveys show that this event has a measurable impact on participants’ attitudes toward the engineering field,” said Susie Johnson, who helps plan the event. “Based on their feedback, many girls who say they are not sure about engineering or moderately interested before the event, change their interest level to ‘very interested’ after the event.”
UI links fun with learning, higher education and careers to direct Idaho’s children toward postsecondary education at early ages.
The university's Extension’s 4-H program, one of UI’s most preeminent youth programs, helps carve the path to college for kids as young as five. With a statewide presence in each of Idaho’s 44 counties, UI’s 4-H serves more than 60,000 students across the state through 4-H clubs, afterschool programs, and other 4-H-managed activities, including the statewide UI Extension Robotics Lego program (see photo).
Jim Lindstrom, UI Extension’s 4-H director of youth development, said the 4-H programs undoubtedly help carve a path to higher education, especially in rural Idaho, where 4-H may be the only show in town beyond the local school district.
“4-H is a natural conduit to college,” he said.
Lindstrom points to the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, a national study that explores the impact 4-H programs have on participants.
“The research reveals that individuals involved in 4-H are more likely to be successful in school, and twice as likely to go on to college,” he said.
The university's McCall Outdoor Science School is another example of the positive effects of linking fun to higher education. Serving more than 2,500 Idaho schoolchildren and their teachers every year, the program leads community outreach and brings students of all ages to its outdoor classroom, located on the shores of Payette Lake, for fun, hands-on science education.
UI Coeur d’Alene also works to get kids excited about degrees and careers in the STEM fields. The center offers a computer coding camp for middle school girls (see photo). It also facilitates “STEAM Labs,” free, one-day workshops designed to improve skills and increase interest in science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
“It’s important to reach youth at young ages and expose them to a variety of exciting learning opportunities,” said 4-H’s Lindstrom. “They realize learning can be fun, they learn practical skills, and they begin to see the possibilities that an education can provide. That can keep them motivated and promote success as they continue through school and life.”
Article by Stacie Jones for the University of Idaho