Georgia Regents University professor Patricia Schoenlein came to class prepared with a lecture about breast cancer research, biology and the differences between a master’s and a doctorate degree.
Her audience was not a bunch of college students on a biology track but Lakeside High School sophomores and juniors to whom college felt a lifetime away.
She hoped her words would open some doors or at least give students an idea of what exists outside their high school.
“These kids can relate so easily to doctor or nurse, but researcher, academic, they really don’t,” said Schoenlein, a breast cancer researcher. “We need to reach out and show them what these occupations are. I think most of them don’t even understand what a Ph.D. means. My family doesn’t even.”
A new program being tested this month by GRU professor of teacher education Andrew Kemp brought college professors to Lakeside High to provide advice on college and insight into different careers. “High School U” came to Lakeside for a 10-day trial, but Kemp said he hopes to expand the program to other high schools in Columbia and Richmond counties in the fall.
The idea for the program was born when Kemp helped one of his students teach a high school Advanced Placement course last year. When he started a conversation with the teenagers, he realized not many knew how college was structured or what majors and careers are out there.
He approached Lakeside Assistant Principal Dorcas Powell about visiting classrooms in the fall and spoke to dozens of high school students about what to expect at a university.
Kemp and Powell then scheduled about 30 GRU professors to visit classes April 15-26. The professors presented for 30 minutes in four study periods where students typically spend time completing homework or receiving enrichment.
“This allows them to say, ‘Wow, there’s a big world out there I didn’t know about,’” Kemp said. “Students really thought college was where you go from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and was basically just an extension of high school. They didn’t know there were different types of biology or so many areas of research.”
Kemp has brought skin cell biologists, chemists, musicians, dentists and other professors to give presentations on their fields. GRU administrators have also participated to teach students about financial aid and college activities.
Powell said the High School U
program coincides with the state’s new Common Core Standards, which require students to choose a career path when they begin high school.
She said with the national education movement so focused on college and careers, exposing students to what’s available is key.
“I just want them to get the sense that really the door is wide open,” Powell said. “They can be anything and do anything. They just have to know what the options are out there.”