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As she guided her students through the Pit, Aycock Middle School counselor Dena Keeling saw her students’ faces light up with excitement as they walked on a college campus for the first time.

“If it wasn’t for this, they may not get to see the college campus,” she said. “It gives them the opportunity to see a college campus, know that they can go to college — that it is an option for them.”Keeling’s group of students were among the nearly 300 North Carolina middle schoolers getting their first look at college life during Tar Heel Preview Day on Oct. 28. Hosted by the Carolina Millennial Scholars, the program features academic sessions with faculty members and panels with current students.

In its third year, Tar Heel Preview Day showcases the college experience to middle school boys from underrepresented backgrounds.

“The goal is to introduce the students to the idea of college as a reality for them,” said Rachel Tates, recruitment program specialist with Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. “We want them to experience what it’s like and also give them the proper tools to navigate their way from middle school to college.”

The students spent a majority of their Carolina experience in the classroom learning about world cultures, economics, psychology and science, seeing firsthand what college courses can offer. “They’re exposed to many different types of academic experiences and they’re able to talk to their peers about what they learned during the sessions,” said Ada Wilson, director of inclusive student excellence at DMA.

But Tar Heel Preview Day was more than academic sessions and a stroll through campus. Students also had the chance to mingle with Carolina students. And for some of the middle schoolers, it was the first time they had met a college student. “I want the students to actively see current college students working and succeeding,” Wilson said. “As middle school students, they’re seeing students from the very moment they walk in, from registration to welcoming the sessions to the panels, they’re seeing themselves through the current Carolina students.”

By showcasing the college experience to students at such a young age, Tates said, the middle schoolers have the time to put themselves on a track that could lead them to college.

“We’re trying to give students the tools so they can be as prepared as possible to make whatever decisions they want to make in their lives and so they’ll be set to go to college if they want to go,” Tates said.

Keeling has seen firsthand how a trip to Carolina can redirect students’ paths.

“I always have students walking away from here feeling like ‘I’m going to college,’” Keeling said. “I see their behavior change when they get back to school because they make that connection of ‘What I’m doing here affects me in the future.’”

By Brandon Bieltz, Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Published October 28, 2016