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We're going on a College Quest

Western students may have been surprised walking around campus this month as 16- to 18-year-olds meandered between buildings. Going between lectures, dining halls and dorms, students may have felt a flash from the past as their younger counterparts passed by on the quad. One of the Extended Education programs at Western, College Quest hosted its first summer session at Western Sunday, June 25, to Friday, June 30. Working with an organization called Upward Bound, the program helps lower income and prospective first-generation students get acclimated to the college experience. “They wanted something that would help them to get ready for college and have that extra preparation,” said WWU Youth Programs employee Jaydee Schmidt. “They developed this program so high school students who are entering 10th grade through 12th grade can come onto campus and take one course where they earn one credit that’s actually transferrable.” As the program has grown over the years, students began to represent far more than just Washington state. From Kansas City to Colorado, students from all corners of the United States come to Western to study in the College Quest program — even some international students, Schmidt said.

“Basically, it’s this introduction to life in college, and especially life at Western, packed into one week,” Schmidt said.

Jaydee Schmidt, WWU Youth Programs employee
Students get to live in the dorms and experience the college lifestyle during their one-week stay on campus. Schmidt said they eat in the dining hall, walk around campus and have the campus residence’s experience. “Basically, it’s this introduction to life in college, and especially life at Western, packed into one week,” Schmidt said. Students have several courses to choose from when they register for the program. The classes are led by Western professors, and each includes relevant coursework. Environmental science, material science, communications, film, theater and creative writing classes are just a few examples of the study areas. “My course group is environmental science,” Resident Adviser Jared Nilsen said. “Within that, they have classroom time, which is in Academic West, and then they also go on field trips as well as labs.” Capped at about 15 students, the courses remain small, allowing for a lot of hands-on experience. “They go to the lab and they synthesize and prepare their own biodiesel from vegetable oil,” said David Patrick, professor and director at Western’s advanced materials science and engineering center. “Then they make their own solar cells from scratch, and they test those solar cells and they see how much power they produce. And we also take a couple field trips.” Casting a wide net of options, the field trips vary from course to course and change each year. From electricity plants to the underground Western steam tunnels to the Nooksack River, the programs offers many opportunities for exploration outside of class. But just because they're high school students doesn't mean that they get off easy. “The subject matter is college level, definitely,” he said. “The assignments are subset of the same assignments I give in a 300 level course on [material science].” Every night, the students go home to Mathes Hall accompanied by a load of homework, so hard work deserves hard play. Working with the Outdoor Center’s Edge program, Nilsen says that the high school students get in a lot of competitive team-building exercise, but they also engage in other ways as well, such as an open mic night at the Underground Coffee House. Nilsen was shocked at how talented the high schoolers were. “We have a piano, ukulele and a guitar, and a majority of [the students] are able to pick them up and play them off the bat,” he said. Nilsen said the resident advisers are almost more like camp counselors than RAs. From campus resources scavenger hunts to capture the flag on the Old Main lawn, the students have a lot of opportunity to engage with the campus and their peers. “I do it because I really enjoy working with young people, and I appreciate their enthusiasm and passion for the subject and their interest in learning,” Patrick said. “They’re very bright, they’re highly motivated, they work really hard and they do very well.” The College Quest program continues into its second session this week from July 9 to July 14.

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