By Colleen Dillaway, Dir. of Public Affairs and Communications, CSUB
March 9, 2013 – To any middle school student it could have been intimidating, being in a room full of thousands of people at a California State University, but not to Eliana Lopez or Omayra Verduzco, from Sunset Middle School.
They were there for “College Making it Happen” at CSU Bakersfield to learn just what was so great about going to college. “I want to learn more about college,” said Verduzco. “We’ve learned the basics about getting into college, and we’ve learned that we have to work really hard to get where we want to be,” added Lopez. “We want to go to college.”
“College Making it Happen”, is an annual college-readiness event offered free of charge by the California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP) at CSU Bakersfield. It’s the largest event of its kind offered to Kern County middle school and high school students and their families. The program’s main goal is to communicate the importance of early academic preparation and financial planning. Several workshops are offered for students and their parents on the four systems of higher education, financial aid, A-G requirements, study skills, and even on typical college life. To cap it off, there is also a college and career resource fair.
With the help of his administrative team, Tomas Prieto, Principal at Sierra Middle School, has been bringing his middle schoolers to College Making it Happen for the past three years. “The earlier you expose the students to college the more likely they’ll go. So we try to expose them early and often.” The contingent from Sierra Middle School was 150 participants strong this year.
Students and their families come to attend the event from all over the southern San Joaquin Valley. “This program is awesome. It’s a great opportunity for parents and kids to learn. A lot of these kids have never even been out of Delano. This event shows them there’s a possibility beyond staying home. It shows them they can go to college, they can go here,” said school counselor Hortencia Venegas from the Cecil Avenue Math and Science Academy in Delano, about 30 miles north of Bakersfield.
Students aren’t the only ones that get a chance to learn about what’s involved in making the college dream a realistic goal. Several workshops are geared specifically towards parents, to help them understand how to successfully plan for their student’s college years. “Our son is a high school senior and he’s the first of our six boys to be accepted at a college. We’re here to explore the options,” said Gracie Vasquez. She and husband Rick Vazquez are weighing whether to send their son to community college first or straight to a four-year university like CSUB. “We’ve gotten some good information today,” she said.
For Cal-SOAP Project Director Imelda Simos-Valdez, her favorite thing about the program is “the opportunity to open the university to the community. This event isn’t just put on by CSUB, but a lot of institutions and business partners.” Take just one spin through the career and college resource fair and you’ll see the truth in that. Local employers as well as colleges and other continuing education opportunities are all on hand with information and representatives to answer any questions. “There are amazing partnerships created here,” she added.
From sixth graders to community leaders, “College Making it Happen” is an event that can open eyes, spark dreams and cement futures.