NACAC Imagine Grant Offers NYC Teens a Glimpse at College Life

By Mary Stegmeir

A college visit offers students an opportunity to learn more about campus life.

But Cassie Magesis had a larger goal in mind when she organized a trip to Pace University (NY) last spring for a group of eighth graders from the Bronx.

This visit — made possible by a $1,000 grant from NACAC’s Imagine Fund — was designed to transform the way her students thought about themselves and their futures.

“I think it ended up being a defining moment of their middle school career,” said Magesis, director of college readiness with The Urban Assembly, a nonprofit overseeing 21 small public schools in New York City. “It allowed the students to believe: I deserve to be here.”

More than 40 students took part in the Pace University tour. The majority of children who attend Urban Assembly schools live in poverty, and are among the first in their families to consider postsecondary education.

For many, the trip to Pace University was one of the only times they had ventured outside their neighborhood, let alone set foot on a college campus. Students who participated in the trip live in the Throngs Neck section of the Bronx, an insular community with limited public transportation.

“On the tour, they were able to see that students like them exist on these campuses,” said Magesis, a NACAC member. “They were able to hear a financial aid officer tell them that college can be affordable. They saw doors open that they never thought existed.”

Instilling positive attitudes about postsecondary education is critical to increasing college and career readiness at the high school level, according to a NACAC study. Early college counseling is especially important for students whose parents did not attend college, the report notes.

Prior to the Pace University tour, Urban Assembly students met with counselors to discuss how to make the most of their high school years. Students learned the importance of grades, course selection, and extracurricular activities, Magesis said.

But it wasn’t until the campus tour that she began to see those lessons “click” for her students.

“So many kids — first-generation kids in particular — spend a lot of high school trying to come back from ninth grade stumbles,” Magesis said. “I think this trip went a long way in helping prevent that for these young people. They now believe college is possible, and that’s a mindset that is invaluable.”

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Imagine Fund grants offer financial support to individuals or NACAC affiliates. Funds are used to support professional development, as well as innovative programs serving students and/or the profession.

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