Middle school students spend day at Pitt for College Day

Nate Kreichman | March 21, 2012    

The National Society of Collegiate Scholars gave middle school students a taste of college life… The National Society of Collegiate Scholars gave middle school students a taste of college life on Wednesday as part of the group’s annual March to College Day.

Fifty eighth graders from the Barack Obama Academy of International Studies in East Liberty were treated to campus tours, motivational speeches, performances, a mock lecture and presentations on student groups and studying abroad during the day-long event at Pitt.

Darlene Epps, a counselor at the visiting school and a Pitt alumnus, said the students were chosen from a class of about 130 based on teacher recommendations and academics.

“The ultimate goal of March to College Day is tofamiliarize the students with what college life is going to be,” Epps said. “It’s an opportunity to visit the campus [and] actually see the students in their own world … Their eyes are opened up to what college life is going to be about … having that opportunity to go to campus and really see firsthand what actually goes on.”

Derilyn Devlin, vice president of NSCS’s Planning to Achieve Collegiate Excellence program, said that when she first organized the event, she was surprised by the middle schoolers’ attentiveness and maturity.

“I was thinking, ‘This is going to be total chaos, they’re going to be running all over and just excited to have a day off from school,’” Devlin said. “I was blown away. They came prepared with questions … They were like, ‘Oh, I was wondering about tuition and applying.’ They thought about it before they came … They really were looking forward to it.”

The students were equally involved this year, listening carefully and asking questions to all of the speakers.

“I learned a lot about college life and the things that you do at college and what college has to offer,” said eighth grader Imani Chisom from the North Side.

Following campus tours and a pizza lunch, the students settled into the William Pitt Union ballroom to hear a motivational speech from former Pitt football player Penny Semaia — now Pitt’s  assistant athletic director for student life and a celebrity as far as the kids were concerned.

Semaia touched on his listeners’ potential, encouraging them to reach for their goals. But it was not all unicorns and rainbows. More than anything else, Semaia stressed personal responsibility. He said that in the real world, it’s not that you can be whatever you want to be, rather, “You can be whatever you’re willing to work for.”

Semaia was followed by a step performance by members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. The kids started taking pictures and recording videos before the group began. More than a few ran up front after the steppers offered a second routine, which was followed by a brief question-and-answer session with the fraternity members about college and Greek life.

One Pitt student performer reiterated Semaia’s message of responsibility, saying, “We take care of our books first and worry about fun later.”

Next up was a mock lecture by Pitt communications professor Matt Gayetsky, who weighed the pros and cons of new and old media. During his speech, Gayetsky was half teacher and half entertainer, showing the students popular video clips and Internet memes.

In the end, Gayetsky concluded that the medium is the message; new media is not better or worse, but different.

At first glance, it seemed the professor had modified his lesson plan for a younger audience. But he said he includes similar entertainment elements in his college lectures as well.

When one young girl compared getting news on the Internet to streaming movies on Netflix, Gayetsky jumped up and exclaimed, “That’s a really good observation.”

The professor also praised the event.

“It’s a unique opportunity to try to bridge the breadth of the things you can do at Pitt with students who might be afraid of what college means,” he said.

Likewise, Epps said she thinks the program is very helpful to the students that come each year.

“I have tremendous admiration for the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. They have been so instrumental in keeping this going … I’m just so happy that they continue to work with us.” Epps said.

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