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Planting the seeds for higher education

By Nancy Hegland

“What do you want to study after high school?” “What career do you want to pursue?” As a junior high student, I clearly remember being asked to write a paper on these questions and researching the details of being a dental hygienist, which seemed very interesting at the time. That idea eventually faded, and in the years that followed, many mentors guided me, even though I wasn’t sure where I was headed and whether I could make it in college.

Youth programs have a role to play in encouraging higher education and future careers. In 2010, Graham Cochran and others from The Ohio State University challenged Extension staff across the country to review the role of youth programs in preparing youth for their futures, and to teach skills that are useful for the twenty-first century. We don’t need to develop new programs to meet this challenge – we can simply add components such as resume building, interviews and team building into existing ones. We can also foster relationships between youth and local businesses, who hire teens and can also play a role in preparing future employees.

Here at the Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development, we have set goals around preparing youth for higher education – which includes all types of education beyond high school. This year, teams in our center are developing plans to reach these targets.  It has been exciting to hear my colleagues’ ideas and the enthusiasm when they talk about ways to reach our goals.  Just yesterday, a group of youth workers here committed to developing campus tours to a variety of higher education institutes, along with a trip to the state capitol. Campus tours, working with local businesses, program alumni mentors, and a focus on job skills are ways that programs can be enhanced to focus on higher education. Are you focusing on higher education and careers in your youth program? What has worked well?

As I look back to my own career preparation, it was critical for me to connect with educated people, explore courses before deciding on a major, and have hands-on work experiences, too. All of these things plant the seed for higher education to help youth – and even adults – prepare for the workforce.

-- Nancy Hegland, Extension program leader, Youth Development

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  1. Hi Nancy -

    Thanks for your encouraging blog. I was really drawn to one of your statements " ... even though I wasn’t sure where I was headed and whether I could make it in college." That type of doubt is common among many youth today too.

    You mentioned junior high as being time when you had an early memory of when you started thinking about higher education. Those early adolescent years can be a critical time. Research shows that middle grades are when youth really make the decision about whether or not college will be a part of their future. It is during that time when many young teens either shift their lives towards exploring post-secondary options or away from it.

    Do you have thoughts on effective ways to reach youth who would be the first generation college students (in their families)?

  2. Thank you for your comments! I believe there are several effective ways to reach first generation youth and their families, as they consider higher education. As we design programs, it is essential to includes opportunities to learn about different careers, hear from individuals who are involved in a variety of vocations, and have time to spend with individuals in the workplace. It would be exciting to have two-three week mini-internships for youth, when they are in middle school, so they could get some experience with the actual day to day happenings in a workplace. When I was in a county 4-H position, I created a summer job shadowing experience for current 4-H members. They were able to work alongside educators and learn more about the happenings inside of the Extension office. I also felt it was important to expose youth to higher education institutes, so always spent a day touring the University of Minnesota. As we work with students, we want to also ensure they develop relationships with mentors, can spend time on various types of campuses, and know who their main contact is at each higher education institute. Families will want to know that there is someone on campus who will be there to support their young person, when they are not with them at college.
    What have you seen as effective ways to reach first generation college students?


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