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High School Students Get a Taste of College

June 21, 2008

By Khristopher J. Brooks, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

Jun. 21–David Garcia, Kendre Barnes and Tai Hoang are high school students who’ve decided that the best place to spend part of their summer vacation is in a classroom.

The three 17-year-olds, along with 37 other soon-to-be high school seniors, are part of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Summer Scholars Program, which is designed to encourage students to attend college and to think about a career path while they’re still in high school.

The five-week program, coordinated by UNO’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, brings students to campus, where they enroll in a college class and experience college life. The students take the same three-credit summer courses as UNO students.

The program exposes the high school students to college-level courses while teaching them that they must manage their own time around class and campus activities.

Garcia, who attends Omaha South High School, is taking a philosophy class.

“I felt smarter because it was like, ‘Wow, I’m 17, taking classes with college students,’” he said. “The class is faster and more in-depth, and if you don’t pay attention for one day, you’ll get lost.

“I got a feel for what college is like — waking up by yourself and being independent. . . . Five weeks isn’t a regular course, but you still get a sense of this,” he said.

Barnes, who attends Omaha Burke High School, is taking a history class.

Hoang, a native of Vietnam who attends Papillion-La Vista High School, chose an English class.

The students also take a “College 101″ class in which they learn the basics of becoming a college student.

During the class, they identify five schools they would like to attend, find 10 scholarships they can apply for and learn tips on managing their time. The class lays out every step on how to apply for financial aid and how to best prepare for college admissions tests.

UNO’s Maria Garza, who coordinates the Summer Scholars program and teaches College 101, said the students use the information to formally apply for colleges and scholarships during their senior year. Even if they don’t attend UNO, she said, the students learn skills that will help in applying to any college.

“The last number I saw, about 60 percent of (the program’s) students end up coming here,” she said.

The Summer Scholars program started in 1989 and has grown from 25 students to 40 this summer, said James Freeman, multicultural affairs director.

The students explore possible careers by shadowing employees at local businesses and organizations, including the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Douglas County Attorney’s Office. They also volunteer at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Omahaand Girls Inc.

The university pays all expenses — including tuition, student fees, books and a parking pass — during the program, which started June 5 and ends July 3.

Garza said Summer Scholars helps high school students become more familiar with elements of the college atmosphere — such as dorms, studying and campus events — so the transition to a university isn’t so scary.

Students say the best part of the program is living on campus for a week — they live at home the rest of the time — and interacting with professors.

“You are completely independent,” Garcia said. “You have to get ready by yourself (and) your mom isn’t there to hustle you around.”

Students apply for the program toward the end of their junior year and must have at least a 3.0 grade point average to be accepted.

This year’s students said they are learning another valuable lesson: College classes are a lot tougher than those in high school.

“You have to stay focused in class the whole time or you’ll miss pivotal information,” Barnes said.

–Contact the writer: 444-1229, khristopher.brooks@owh.com

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Copyright (c) 2008, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

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