Local high school girls to sample GVSU life

Lauren Fitch

The act of enrolling in college brings with it an intimidating list of demands including filing for financial aid, putting together a class schedule and buying the necessities a student needs for life on his or her own. All of this comes before the actual stress of setting foot on campus and attempting to start a new life there.

For one group of local high school girls, the transition to college life should be a more manageable process after they experience a mock college day coordinated by the Grand Valley State University Women’s Center, Office of Multicultural Affairs and YWCA organization Girls Inc.

The mock college day will bring about 12 girls from inner-city schools to GVSU’s campus in the middle of August for a campus tour, dorm visit, meal at Fresh Food Co., a sample of a college class, an ice-cream social and a discussion with panelists from the Women’s Center.

The event is sponsored through part of the Michigan Women’s Foundation Young Women for Change grant, which the Women’s Center received in fall of 2009.

“We (in the Women’s Center) have a long-standing relationship with Girls Inc.,” said Ashley Nickels, assistant director of the Women’s Center who has helped organize the mock college day. “It was a natural extension to use the grant for this.”

The grant was used to start a group at GVSU called NIARA, which provides a mentoring program between professional women of color and minority undergraduate students. NIARA, in turn, reaches out to members of the community including Girls Inc., which is a program designed to address issues facing young women.

Members of NIARA will sit on the panel to answer the girls’ questions during their college visit.

“It is intended to benefit all involved,” Nickels said. She said the undergraduate students will have a chance to give back to the community, share their personal stories and network.

The Girls Inc. participants will see that the college experience is accessible, Nickels said.

“Anytime we bring students out here … it’s fun to watch the young women and girls see campus,” she said. “I’m willing to put in the work to make it happen so I can sit back and take it all in.”

She added it is inspiring to hear current students share their stories.

One student who will share her story as a member on the panel is Susana Villagomez, a senior who has worked in the Women’s Center for four years and is also a member of NIARA.

Villagomez has helped on similar panels in the past and said she looks forward to answering questions about the minority experience in college, her goals and obstacles she has encountered.

“As a minority at a college like Grand Valley, sometimes you feel left out,” said Villagomez, a health professions major. She also said as a first generation student it can be even harder to figure out the whole college process, which is why Villagomez feels it is important to reach out to younger girls as they prepare for college.

“I want to be a mentor to them so they are more educated,” Villagomez said. “A lot of them don’t have college on their mind. We want to show them it is an option.”

The emphasis on education is an important part of Girls Inc. Kristen Moss, the youth coordinator at the YWCA in Grand Rapids, agreed with Villagomez’s goals for the program.

Moss said the YWCA tries to maintain relationships with the colleges in the Grand Rapids area to give the girls a glimpse of what college life is like. The girls involved in the Girls Inc. camp are juniors and seniors in high school who will soon decide if they want to apply to colleges.

“Most girls don’t think about the college period, so to show them they can be independent without going far from their families – Grand Valley is a good candidate,” Moss said. “The girls are having their eyes opened to something they’ve never experienced before. We want to show them college is an option.”

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