New Compass 2 Campus partnerships aim to empower underrepresented students  

On a typical morning, the high-pitched caws of gulls and the constant roar of the salty Salish Sea waves would be a formidable foe to any other noise. But today, they pale in comparison to the animated chatter of the students arriving at Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes.  

These 18 students aren’t just excited by the sunny day ahead of them. This group of rising Latinx 11th graders from Skagit Valley are stepping outside of the classroom to explore the wonders of the Salish Sea and understand the science behind this unique environment through a culturally sensitive lens.  

The opportunity comes from the partnership and funding of many organizations, including The Salish Sea School and Western’s own Compass 2 Campus (C2C) which places college student mentors in classrooms across 33 local schools to encourage underrepresented students to pursue higher education.  

Mixed among the high school participants are four C2C mentors who will be helping to lead these students through a three-week marine science and conservation course while providing them with insight into the college experience.  

“Compass 2 Campus has helped make college something I’m excited to do, and I wanted to bring that mindset to kids who might not know much about higher education,” said Susan Correia, a second-year science education major and student mentor.  

Bridging the gap 

Although C2C has been operating at Western for 12 years, its partnerships with programs like North 2 Western (N2W) and Teaching our Leaders to be Empowered by their Cultura (TOLTEC) are fresh. 

While all these programs share different names, their ultimate goal is to help students from underrepresented communities feel welcome in higher education. 

N2W offers students from the Burlington-Edison School District the opportunity to visit Western’s campus once a week for seven weeks with their mentors to tour the grounds, meet professors and enjoy a meal with their classmates.  

It first started in response to the low number of BIPOC students from the district applying to Western despite it being a short drive away, C2C executive director Bridget Galati said.  

“There was so little exposure and opportunity to be on the campus, meet people and create that sense of home,” Galati said. “We realized we needed a way for students to get on the campus and experience it first-hand.” 

Although the program may have started with Western in mind, Galati said it expanded far beyond the original goal. 

“It’s not necessarily about those students going to Western in particular,” Galati said. “It’s about them having the resources and experiences they need to take advantage of all post-secondary options.” 

All of the work done through N2W is made possible by the Gaining Early Access and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant. This U.S. Department of Education grant funds programs that better prepare low-income students for postsecondary education.  

In addition to N2W, the GEAR UP grant is funding the work C2C and TOLTEC are doing with The Salish Sea School this August.  

TOLTEC focuses on engaging first-generation students through a culturally responsive curriculum that validates their identities and teaches leadership skills to prepare them for college. 

In combination with their mission to encourage BIPOC and low-income students to pursue higher education, C2C staff embraced TOLTEC’s philosophy as they prepared to mentor students during The Salish Sea School’s summer program. 

The three-week summer program focuses on teaching students about the importance of the Salish Sea, how marine life depend on it and how they can help to conserve it. The inclusion of the TOLTEC program means cultural experiences and knowledge are incorporated regularly.  

Throughout the program, students participate in discussions about their common cultural experiences, conduct surveys on marine debris and harbor porpoise, study forage fish eggs, and have the opportunity to speak with marine scientists of similar cultural backgrounds 

“It’s great if students are learning from people about the Salish Sea, but it’s really important for them to see people who look like them, who speak their languages and have common experiences with them engaged in that work,” Galati said. 

Although conservation education is a central part of The Salish Sea School’s mission, inclusion and equity play an equally important role, the school’s executive director Amy Eberling said. 

“Our ultimate goal is to empower students from all backgrounds to become a leader in marine conservation,” Eberling said. “Whether that means becoming a marine scientist or simply seeking out sustainable products or conservation processes in whatever field they choose. I want them to know that all actions great and small can and will make a difference.” 

Looking ahead 

With the start of the new academic year, Galati said she’s excited to get back to the traditional model of C2C, but with a few key changes. 

While she said they hope to have mentors visiting schools in person, some programs like N2W benefitted from the flexibility that remote meetings provided. 

“It’s so important for mentors to meet face-to-face with their students, but we also recognize how remote work makes spaces like ours more inclusive,” Galati said. “So, it’s a balancing act.” 

As small details like that are still being decided, Galati said one thing is certain: they’ll need plenty of student mentors. 

“Being a mentor to low-income and students of color in our region is one of the most powerful ways for our students to make a difference, and they’re needed now more than ever,” Galati said. 

Correia, who plans to be a lead C2C mentor in the fall, emphasized how beneficial the program is not only as a leadership experience for mentors but as a growth opportunity for the students.  

“Each and every one of these students has such depth and potential to aspire for greatness,” Correia said. “We just need to recognize it and foster that, so they don’t fall through the cracks.”