Thursday August 9, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Close to 40 high school juniors from Maine got a taste of college in Southwestern Vermont this week through an out-of-state Upward Bound program.

The federal program with locations across the country is intended for high school students who are aspiring first-generation college students and those from low-income families to help them prepare for college. Part of that experience includes college visits.

After seeing a handful of campuses in Maine earlier in the summer, the group started a three-day road trip Monday that included stops at University of New Hampshire and Keene State College before stopping Tuesday at Bennington College and then Southern Vermont College, where they stayed overnight before leaving Wednesday.

"We purposely tried to think of some schools that were large and (some that were) small institutions, and public verses private, just to expose students to what differences exist," said Daniel Barton, director of the Upward Bound program at University of Southern Maine in Gorham. "We’re all very familiar with our university and some of the ones in Maine, but we wanted to expose them to other options that are outside and are still affordable."

At SVC students took a tour, had an opportunity to speak with SVC students, ate in the dining hall and on Wednesday morning heard a presentation about the small, private college. As their stay in Vermont wrapped up, the juniors stressed how important the campus visits have been as they begin the college search process. Brooke Hume, for instance, wanted to attend a small school until seeing everything University of Maine has to offer, which shifted the focus of her college search from size to programs and opportunities. For Autumn Carey, her perception of campus size was the opposite.

"I thought I wanted to be in the biggest school possible to meet as many people as possible, but then I realized that I kind of like smaller schools better because it gives you a chance to meet people faster because it’s a smaller community," Carey said.

Carey said one of the campus stops that impressed her the most was Bennington College.

For Hume, who had never visited a campus before this summer, Upward Bound has made her dream of college easier to imagine. It has also given her the courage to seek out information from colleges and plan visits on her own.

"I’m the first in my family (who will) go to college and I’ve always really, really wanted to go to college but I didn’t know how I was going to do it," Hume said. "Now I’m a lot more confident about going to colleges and seeing their campuses because I’ve been to so many."

Another high school student, Liban Yassin, said he aspires to become a nurse, which he has always believed would require a degree.

"I always wanted to go to college, but what Upward Bound has done for me is it made me more motivated to try in school," Yassin said.

At each campus, school officials have talked about their grade requirements, what they look for in applications, and advertised what their school has to offer.

"We keep it very opened ended, but we also talk very specific about Southern Vermont. I’ll always start out with tips for those students on how to look at colleges, what types of questions to ask, (and) how to approach the decision making process. Obviously we hope that SVC may be an option for them, but we understand that it may not be and it’s all about finding the right fit," Admissions Director Jeremy Gibbons said.

Yassin said he was impressed with what he saw at SVC, which is known for its nursing program.

"(When looking at colleges) I’d never been out of state. I loved the University of Maine, but I kind of like this college because I love the view, I love how the tour guides have a lovely personality, I feel like this college is very social and has a good sense of community," Yassin said following a presentation by the admissions staff.

During the presentation students were also able to ask questions such as the percent of students of color, how many students receive financial aid, and whether there is any truth to rumors the campus is haunted.

"I don’t think it’s haunted. I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen anything," Assistant Admissions Director Daniel Summers answered.

This is the first summer the group from USM has visited SVC, although other Upward Bound groups have been visiting for years. Another group from Maine, as well as groups from University of Vermont and Lyndon State College, are also visiting this summer.

In previous summers SVC hosted its own Upward Bound program that attracted approximately 50 high school students each year from Bennington County and nearby Massachusetts and New York, although the college stopped offering that this year. Due to increased enrollment in recent years, Gibbons said SVC was required to focus resources and space on current students and other summer programs.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi