“The oldest book in our special collections area of the library is from the 13th century and describes proper spelling for that time period,” UCSD librarian Marlo Young informed a group of students from Castle Park High as they toured the Geisel Library recently.
Learning about the oldest book in UCSD’s library was only one of many nuggets of information seven students from the Sweetwater District high school picked up on their recent campus visit. Unlike many campus tours, the Ambassadors of Academic Achievement (A3) program field trip went beyond the normal walk around the university’s grounds.
Through this unique mentoring program with UCSD’s Office of Student Educational Advancement, these high school juniors received an in-depth campus experience. The students were paired with an undergraduate mentor for the day who talked to them about being a college student, answered questions about how to prepare for this next step, took them to a college class and provided them the opportunity to meet a UCSD science professor and visit a research laboratory.
Designed to outreach to local high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds with an interest in bioscience, medicine, medical research, bioengineering, health sciences and related disciplines, the A3 program gives Sweetwater District juniors and seniors an “up close and personal” view of the life of a college student.
“It is important that our students have the opportunity see for themselves what it takes to be successful in college,” said Sweetwater Board President Arlie Ricasa.
The Castle Park High students participation in this effort to acquaint students with possible health and medical career pathways is coordinated by both teachers at the school and staff from UCSD. Over the course of three weeks, 20 students from the south Chula Vista school will spend a day on campus with a UCSD college student.
“Many of our students will be the first in their family to attend college,” said Sweetwater Superintendent Dr. Jesus Gandara. “Experiences like this convince them they have the skills necessary to succeed in the college of their choice.”
A3 is one of several programs associated with the university’s Healing the Community initiative that focuses on addressing significant health issues, including the lack of diversity in the pool of health services delivery professionals. According to Dr. Loren Thompson, UCSD’s Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Educational Advancement, educators, administrators and medical personnel recognize that it is important to have health professionals who also mirror the population being served.
“While all students are invited to attend, we are trying to attract participants from typically underrepresented groups,” Thompson said. “Through A3, students get a personal experience and get a feel for the campus from a student perspective.”
Thompson began work on the A3 program with Castle Park High teacher Robert Manroe two years ago. Both of them realized that what was missing from traditional campus visits was the opportunity for high school students to connect with their peers in the university setting.
“All too often students tour a university campus and return home having looked at buildings all day and lacking any sense of what it means to go to college,” Manroe said. “What we have established is a program that couples our students who have an interest in science and math as a college major with UCSD mentors.”
It is those mentoring relationships that seem to be making the difference for these students. Once they arrive on the campus for their visit, Castle Park students meet their student mentor and learn what the day will entail. During initial introductions the students discover they have much in common with their university peers.
“No one in my family has attended college so I decided to participate in this program to get a feel for being on a college campus and see what classes are like,” said Luis, a junior with interests in French, mechanical engineering and biology.
Heiu, a UCSD freshman who prepped locally at Hoover High, knows about blazing that initial family trail to college.
“I’m a first generation college student,” Heiu said. “I had doubts when I started at UCSD and I want to share my insights with my high school mentee.”
On the walk to her mentor’s Spanish class, Karla talked to her mentor Rebecca about UCSD’s multiple college system and which one would be right for her. The two also reviewed the library tour, with Rebecca admitting it was the first time she had toured this important campus resource.
In class, Karla, who speaks Spanish, followed the lecture of Professor Diego Ubiera. She jotted down notes as the professor quizzed the class on the difference between qué and cuál and por and para. At one point the Castle Park junior was even able to offer help to her mentor on a vocabulary question.
“I was nervous at first going into the class, but after a little while I felt very comfortable,” Karla said. “I realized the students in the college class are not much different than the people I see in my classes every day in high school.”
The students and their mentors will maintain their connection even after the campus visit, exchanging email addresses to continue the one-on-one mentoring.
“Talking with Rebecca and being in the class with her gives me confidence that I can do well when I get to college,” Karla said.
It is this enhanced sense of confidence that Thompson and Manroe were hoping to inspire in students when they developed A3. For several Sweetwater District students that hope is being fulfilled as five students from last year’s A3 campus visit started at UCSD as freshmen last fall.