Students Work to Introduce Children to Higher Education

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question frequently posed by adults to a growing child. Unfortunately, the conversation usually dies as the adult replies, “That’s nice,” and moves on to the next thing.

Albion College students Josiah Fallot and John Faulkner are working to empower children to pursue the educational requirements for their chosen occupation with support from a grant from the Michigan Campus Compact’s College Positive Communities program.

Kyle Shanton, associate professor of education at Albion, and Elizabeth Schultheiss, executive director of the Albion Community Foundation, successfully applied for the grant last fall, which requires a partnership between a college and a local access network. After Schultheiss created the Greater Albion College Access Network, Shanton, Fallot, and Faulkner breathed life into the pilot program by pursuing meetings with local school  leaders to invite children ranging from 5 years old to high school age to visit the Albion campus and get an idea of what college is all about.

Two schools accepted the offer in April. More than 60 students in the Albion Public Schools ranging from seventh through 11th grades listened to scholarly presentations delivered by College students during the Elkin R. Issac Student Research Symposium, and elementary students from Mar Lee School were exposed to the lighter side of college life when they came to campus for a portion of the Day of Woden celebration at the end of the College’s spring semester.

Assisted by several volunteers, Fallot and Faulkner placed the eager visitors in small groups and escorted them around campus as they participated in a variety of activities. This strategy gave the schoolchildren the opportunity to get acquainted, ask questions, tell stories, and share aspirations about college.

“My mom has been teaching elementary students in the Adrian area for close to 30 years and college is  an unknown to many of those kids,” said Faulkner, who describes himself as a post-baccalaureate undergraduate student from Blissfield. “We are working to demystify the process. The students know college exists, but they don’t know its purpose and what they’re supposed to do after college. This is a great educational opportunity for young students to be introduced to higher education in a nontraditional way.”

Faulkner added that although the visitors toured Albion’s campus, the definition of college isn’t limited to four-year institutions.

“College could be [defined as] a technical school,” Faulkner said. “The question is, ‘How do we help them get there?’”

Among children’s misconceptions about college, Fallot and Faulkner said, are its expense and the importance of athletics. Ann Whitmer, the College’s director of financial aid, was invited to speak to the Albion middle and high school groups about costs.

“A lot of them aren’t aware of scholarship options available to them,” said Fallot, a junior from Morenci whose mother is a middle and high school counselor.

Barry Wolf, a learning support specialist in the College’s Academic Skills Center, also talked to the Albion group about the importance of setting realistic goals and preparing for the rigor of higher education.

“They usually aren’t aware of the workload [in college],” Fallot said. “They only know it’s going to be harder.”

Fallot and Faulkner will spend the first half of the College’s summer break reviewing the feedback given by the students after the April visit. Then they will try to make appointments with nearby school districts to introduce even more students to the college experience this fall. Shanton indicated he is able to apply for continued funding for the project over the next four years.

Early indications suggest the children enjoyed the experience. In a recent e-mail to Shanton, Mar Lee Principal Sheri Thorbjornsen wrote: “I just wanted to thank you personally for the wonderful experience given to our 4th and 5th graders at Albion College on Wednesday. They LOVED it! Thank you so much for the valuable time on a college campus.”