900 youth visit Western for Compass 2 Campus

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - 9:12am
Western Today staff

About 900 fifth graders from Skagit and Whatcom counties visited Western Washington University on Tuesday, Oct. 23, to see firsthand what a university campus is like. The tour kicked off the fourth year of Compass 2 Campus, a proactive effort that sends trained WWU student mentors into schools in order to get more kids to see themselves as future college students.

“Research tells us mentorship is the key,” said Cyndie Shepard, director of Compass 2 Campus. “Kids who are mentored or who have a significant adult in their lives have a better chance of success. We’re reaching out to kids who may not think about graduating from high school and going on to college, encouraging them to have that vision.”

To date, the innovative mentoring program has now served thousands of students from the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades in schools in Whatcom and Skagit counties. Over the past three years, Western student mentors have provided nearly 70,000 hours of mentoring service to those students.

On Oct. 23, the fifth-graders were involved in 145 different tours of Western’s campus personalized to the youngsters’ interests. They got to see the inside of real college classrooms and laboratories to glimpse what’s in store for those who are motivated to do well in school. Professors with specialties ranging from music to marine biology opened their doors to these students. Former NASA astronaut John Herrington during a visit to campus presented two sessions to fifth graders interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The annual tour of campus is just the beginning of a long-term relationship between the fifth graders and WWU mentors. As the fifth graders progress through middle and high school, Western Compass 2 Campus mentors continue to serve these students to offer encouragement and support to graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

More than 350 WWU students are now enrolled in the three-credit class required to become Compass 2 Campus mentors. Some students have taken the class more than once and are working on advanced projects in the schools in which they mentor students. Additional students who have already taken the class are continuing to mentor as volunteers. Mentors spend at least four hours a week in schools, engaged where teachers and administrators feel they’re needed most; some help with after-school activities while others lead small group projects or provide one-on-one academic help to struggling students.

Working with elementary school teachers, the WWU students learn about the kids’ aspirations and talk to them about how going to college can help them reach those dreams.

“I have always admired the quote by Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ I have struggled in the past of knowing how to be that change. Through Compass 2 Campus I have been able to be this change here in my community, by believing in my students and allowing them to realize that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to!” Western senior Megan Radford said. “I always had someone believing in me while I was growing up, and I think it is about time to return the favor.”

And the WWU students say the experience enriches their lives.

“Compass 2 Campus has had such an impact on my life that I know I would not be the person I am today without it. The teachers, students and mentors have all made this experience one that I will be telling my children about,” said Western senior Stevie Olsen.

While many mentoring programs focus their efforts on youngsters who have already shown academic promise or interest, Compass 2 Campus aims to reach all youngsters – even those who may not show interest in school.

“I think we miss a lot of very bright children by just assuming that they’ll never make it because they don’t do well in school,” Cyndie Shepard said. “We typically let those kids go. We’re saying ‘We’re not letting you go.’”

District superintendents selected the schools they felt would most benefit from the program, Shepard said.

The program, launched in 2009 at Western, includes 13 area elementary schools and 8 middle schools as well as partners from four community and technical colleges and Communities in Schools. (Participating schools are listed at the end of this release). Funding for the program primarily is from private sources.

The Washington State Legislature established the program in hopes of increasing the number of low-income students, students of color and first-generation college students in higher education. The predecessor to Compass 2 Campus, Phuture Phoenix, is now in three universities in Wisconsin after starting at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. Shepard co-founded the Phuture Phoenix program several years ago at UW-Green Bay, where her husband, WWU President Bruce Shepard, was chancellor.