If you happened to be on the campus at Western Washington University today, as I was earlier this morning, you might think that WWU’s university students had gotten a lot shorter, and younger. In a way, they have. At least if Cindy Shepard, the WWU President’s wife, has anything to do with it.
Shortly after the Shepards arrived in Bellingham (Bruce Shepard took over from Karen Morse as the new president), Cindy launched a program similar to one she had done at their previous university stop. Called Compass 2 Campus, it pairs the area’s fifth through twelfth-graders with university students who mentor them for a full year.
During the school year, the kids visit the campus, experience different aspects of college, participate in workshops and basically learn what it means to be a university student. It’s a great way to introduce the idea of higher education to the kids. And for the university students who take part in the program, many of whom are education majors but not all, it gives them a life-long college memory unlike any other.
“You should see these kids when they leave, their faces are just beaming,” said Truc Thon, a community member and program volunteer. I ran into Truc and the other Compass 2 Campus volunteers–many of whom were friends of mine–this morning when they were greeting the kids who were arriving at the university literally by the busloads for this first day of this year’s program.
I’m not sure who was more excited for their arrival, the volunteers or the kids. The fifth graders were wearing bright chartreuse T-shirts with the Compass 2 Campus logo emblazoned on the front. Many of them were hauling along big backpacks too, just like the university students who were hurrying on their way to class at the same time. The university’s student volunteers met each group as they unloaded and then escorted them towards the middle of campus where they all would attend an opening ceremony of sorts that was designed to resemble a college graduation.
They would remain on campus all day, until 3 p.m. during which they would visit many of the different departments, perhaps sample a little cafeteria fare, and get to see what it’s like to be a university student. For many of these kids, it’s the first time that any of them have ever set foot on a college campus. The hope is, at least as far as Cindy Shepard and the program volunteers are concerned, it won’t be their last.