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Sugar House Journal

Walkways to Westminster: College Access Program Enriches Mentors and Youth

Jun 14, 2016 09h04 ● By Bryan Scott

By: Alexys Smith, Madeline Gere, and Karson Eilers -- Westminster students 

A key educational goal for Westminster is to embed a sense of civic responsibility in students. The Katherine W. Dumke Center for Civic Engagement at Westminster is a central resource for students, faculty, and community members to connect.

Beyond offering support for service-learning courses, providing leadership grants, and promoting volunteer opportunities to students and faculty, the Dumke Center gives students multiple ways to connect with neighbors in Sugar House and other Salt Lake communities. Walkways to Westminster is one program the Dumke Center offers that has fostered a deep reciprocal relationship between Westminster students and youth in South Salt Lake. 

“This is one way I can help these students to have an outlet and find a walkway to higher education,” stated Stephanie Miller, 20, Walkways to Westminster fellow coordinator. “Having them exposed to the college environment makes it become a reality.”

Walkways to Westminster is a mentoring based college access program. Westminster students join first-generation middle and high school students in a variety of activities throughout the year. Students from both Westminster and South Salt Lake learn each other’s stories, strengths and ideas. As a result both become more empowered in their higher education goals. 

“The younger students take away a lot from the program including tons of new knowledge about college and the things that come with it,” beamed Shayne Graff, 19, mentor for Walkways to Westminster. 

The program is for 8-12 grade youth who have been historically underrepresented in the higher-education setting. Lack of access to college preparation and resources, as well as a lack of support upon arrival to college, contribute to the absence of these underrepresented students. The Walkways to Westminster program creates a foundation of support for students on their path to college.  

“We say we are open to ideas but we are not hearing everyone’s ideas,” Miller said with frustration. “The students that are underserved deserve a spot to be heard and be a part of the conversation.”

The youth will be first-generation college students, many also speak English as a second language. College systems have not traditionally supported people from these identities, and as a result many of the students did not previously recognize college as an option.  

 “Through Walkways I was able to see so many of the teens become excited and learn that they can be the first in their family to go to college, and they can change their future,” Graff said.

“I have seen improvements in the student’s confidence,” Miller said. “This program gets them to explore their identities and what they want in life.”

The program functions through regularly scheduled activities that focus on providing information about college. Events range from a “major auction” where students learn about various college majors and then compete for the best one, to “college lingo jenga” a game where students become familiar with confusing terms they will encounter when applying to colleges. 

 “We had events one to two times a month and we would do various activities and games to teach the students about college in ways that would keep their interest and be enjoyable,” Graff elaborated.

In addition to gaining exposure to a myriad of academic fields of study, participating South Salt Lake students learn strategies to excel on standardized entrance exams, apply for scholarship and generally succeed in college.

“The first word that pops into my head is opportunity,” Miller asserted. “They are hardworking and now it is possible for them to get higher education and higher paying jobs.”