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Children from nonprofit Family Development Center visit Sonoma State University for taste of college life

July 21, 2017

Dressed in colorful shades of orange and green, around 600 Kindergarten to eighth-grade students from the Robert’s Family Development Center Freedom School in Sacramento attended the annual “I Am the Future” day at Sonoma State University last week to get a taste of college life and participate in learning workshops.

The school, which mainly serves underserved areas of Sacramento and aims to “provide services with a holistic approach focusing on early childhood, parent education, economic empowerment and technology and literacy,” arrived on the sunny campus ready for a full day of events, singing chants of greeting to Gina Geck, director of student outreach and recruitment and Provost Lisa Vollendorf.

Vollendorf, the newly appointed provost for the university, welcomed the students in Seawolf Plaza and gave a short three-minute speech on the day’s events and the goal of “I Am the Future” day, which includes giving the students something to aspire to when it comes to college and welcoming a diverse student population.

“It is nice to see everyone! We are one of 23 in the California State University, so go public education! We are very proud to serve more than 10,000 students who come from all over California, all over the country and all over the world,” Vollendorf said. “I want you to know that we are proud to serve students from different walks of life, ethnicities and cultures… and if you come here then you will be part of a good community.”

The day’s events started with a lunch served by the university cafeteria, followed by campus tours and an interactive workshop fair in Darwin quad, with activities such as kid-friendly chemistry experiments and scavenger hunts.

“You will see our science and technology college and see our beautiful dorms. You will move around from activity stations, we are going to provide lunch and later a movie at Green Music Center,” Vollendorf told the crowd of excited looking children.

According to Andre Bailey, an educational opportunity program advisor, various departments in the college help to set up over 20 the activity booths and that members of the SSU community, such as the EOP advisors also participate with the children during the day. 

“Bailey, who helps kids who are first generation “historically low-income” college students said of the day’s events, “The departments are being very creative of what they are coming up with. I know from an EOP standpoint, we are going to have them draw what their future looks like and what their future careers may look like.”

While it may seem far in advance to start looking at colleges when you are five or eight-years-old, Bailey said inviting the students to visit the campus is important because it helps the students look towards their future in higher education.

“We want to make sure that these young people know that these opportunities exist,” Bailey said.   

Sonoma State hosted the students last year as well and according to Geck, the program coordinator, the event was so successful that the university decided to make it an annual program to invite back the students from the school.

According to Nicolas Grizzle of SSU News and Media Relations, University President Judy Sakaki’s top priorities for the event and the university include, “increasing diversity in higher education and making sure college is accessible to everyone.”

Bailey echoed Sakaki’s thought and said he believes the main goal of the event, “the objective of the event is to bring students to college campuses so they can visualize seeing themselves not only on the college campus, but instilling the idea of college. And in support of Sakaki’s initiative on access to higher education, that is where we are partnering with community organizations, such as the Robert’s Center.  

Co-Founder and CEO of the nonprofit center founded by Derrell Roberts said the center provides summer programs for students, where they have weekly field trips to different colleges across the Bay Area.

“This is one of many field trips, Sonoma State, San Francisco State and Sac City College,” Roberts explained.

When asked if he believes showing universities to younger children is indeed beneficial for them in the long run, Roberts said it is extremely advantageous for kids to start looking and thinking about college early on, especially if they come from families who haven’t experienced college themselves.

“The reality is, many of the kids that will come to you, they may not have somebody previously than themselves go to college and are graduates from college, so taking them onto a college campus lets them recognize they belong there,” Roberts said. “And that is the piece we try to stress to them… is that you can very easily, five to six years from now be on these campuses, whether it be Sonoma State or UC Berkeley.”

According to Roberts, several kids who have participated in the programs and school offered by the center have gone on to universities such as Sacramento State University, UC Davis, UCLA and UC Berkeley, just to name a few.         

But why choose Sonoma State to tour with the kids in the summer program out of the aforementioned 23 other CSU’s? Roberts said Sonoma is a good distance from Sacramento — it is far enough away where students can develop a sense of independence, but close enough to home.

“I like the proximity to Sacramento, the fact that kids who probably could use the experience of being away from home can still be close to home and don’t have to travel out of the state or out of the region… and seeing that beautiful drive always makes it nice,” Roberts said.