Contact: Paul Cocke, director, WWU University Communications, (360) 650-3350
BELLINGHAM – Several elected officials will join the close to 900 fifth-graders from Skagit and Whatcom counties who will visit Western Washington University Tuesday, Oct. 26, to see firsthand what a university campus is like.
The tour kicks off the second 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.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen is scheduled to speak at the day’s opening ceremonies. Also expected to attend are State Sen. Rosemary McAulliffe, state representatives Bob Hasegawa, Kelli Linville and Jeff Morris, Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen and Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike.
Modeled after a successful program in Wisconsin, Compass 2 Campus aims to get more kids thinking early about college with the help of mentors and role models to show them the importance of higher education. The tour is just the beginning of a long-term relationship between the youngsters and WWU mentors. The students who toured the WWU campus last year as fifth-graders now work with Western student mentors in their sixth-grade classrooms. And they will continue to see WWU students as Compass 2 Campus grows each year, eventually serving thousands of students in the fifth- through 12th grades.
“The campus has really put its arms around this and said, ‘Yes, we’re doing it,’” said Cyndie Shepard, director of the program. More faculty and staff have opened their doors to the student visitors this year, providing twice as many opportunities for the fifth-graders to get a glimpse of what it’s like to be in college. “They’ve been creative in opening up their minds to what would interest a fifth-grader and get them interested in coming to college.”
This year, two additional schools, Lummi Nation School and Lynden’s Fisher Elementary, have joined the program.
On Oct. 26, the fifth-graders will go on tours of Western’s campus personalized to the youngsters’ interests. They will get 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 have opened their doors to these students.
The program, launched in 2009 with the help of a work study grant from the Higher Education Coordinating Board, includes 12 area elementary schools as well as four community and technical colleges. (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. WWU officials will return to the Legislature in December to report on the progress of the program; Western will also ask the Legislature to provide enough funding to sustain Compass 2 Campus at WWU and replicate the program at universities across the state. 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.
More than 300 WWU students are enrolled in the three-credit class required to become a Compass 2 Campus mentor. 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 a volunteer. 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.
“We’re basically letting them know, you always have a Western person to help you,” said Shar Sarte Prince, one of the administrators of the program.
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.
District superintendents selected the schools they felt would most benefit from the program, Shepard said.
“In that way, our fingers are reaching out as far as we can, extending Western’s commitment to kids who may not think about graduating from high school and going on to college, encouraging them to have that vision,” she said. “I feel very impassioned that we need to make sure we’re reaching all the kids we can.”
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 haven’t shown much potential at all.
“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.’”
For more information, including a video of last year’s tour, please visit the Compass 2 Campus Web site.
Compass 2 Campus is a partnership among Western and four community and technical colleges:
- Whatcom Community College
- Bellingham Technical College
- Northwest Indian College
- Skagit Valley College
The elementary schools participating in the program are:
- Alderwood Elementary in Bellingham
- Blaine Elementary
- Central Elementary in Ferndale
- Fisher Elementary in Lynden
- Ten Mile Creek Elementary in rural Whatcom County
- Everson Elementary
- Nooksack Elementary
- Sumas Elementary
- Lummi Nation School
- Mary Purcell Elementary in Sedro-Woolley
- Washington Elementary in Mount Vernon
- Lucile Umbarger in Burlington