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Incoming high school freshmen get taste of college life

For about 55 Denver incoming high school freshman, the idea of using engineering software and a 3-D printer to transform their drawings into three-dimensional models seemed daunting.

Devi Kalla, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Metropolitan State University, asked a group of the students if they had doubts about their ability to accomplish the task. Hands shot into the air.

Brent Dysart, one of the mentors in the program and a student at MSU, said that despite the ninth-graders’ initial doubts, the students pushed through the classes. “We couldn’t be more proud of your achievement,” he said.

It’s that kind of mindset — the realization that despite their initial nervousness, the students could achieve seemingly unreachable goals — that this camp intends to nourish in the students. And the end goal is for these ninth-graders to apply that mindset further down the road, when they start thinking about becoming the first in their families to attend college.

Esther Rodriguez, director of the Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Center for Urban Education, led the third annual College Readiness Camp. Rodriguez said the main goal of the program is to get students — all recent graduates from a number of DPS middle schools including KIPP Montbello College Prep, CEC Middle College, Martin Luther King and the Denver Center for International Studies — thinking about college early.

“We want classes that are developmentally appropriate for incoming freshman, while also being culturally relevant,” Rodriguez said. “It’s about preparing them to be successful in high school, but also to get them in a college mindset.”

Karen Frazier, a former Martin Luther King Middle School student, said the program shattered her stereotypes on what college would be like.

“I thought college would be boring and just a bunch of lectures,” she said. “But this made me see that college was something that I could get into, that there was interesting stuff to do.”

Clara Megallanes, a former Kepner Middle School student and rising freshman at Abraham Lincoln High School, said college-readiness talk and programs are scarce. The camp, she said, is going to give her and her peers a leg up on other high school students when it comes time to apply to colleges.

That is exactly what Rodriguez hopes the students take away from the experience.

“Being on campus, interacting with college students as mentors — it’s creating a visual of what their future could be,” she said.

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