Social Work Students Bring College Dreams to At-Risk Youth

Posted: March 29, 2010 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: March 26, 2010 at 2:24 pm

By Leah Kerkman Fogarty

Social work professor Molly Davis.

Born from a class discussion in SOCW 475 Selected Topics in Social Work Policy, the College Dream Tour is a student-run project to instill college aspirations in at-risk youth.

Molly Davis, associate professor in the Social Work Department and undergraduate director of field education, helped students in the class plan the event for 75 local youth last spring.

Because of the project’s overwhelming success, two sections of the special topics course are working on the project this year and will hold another tour on May 1. Davis expects the tour will bring in even more tweens and teens — about 125.

Davis says that children who have little or no exposure to college settings won’t know how to go about applying to and attending college when the time comes.

“We realized that we were planting the idea of going to college,” says Davis. “Without aspirations, children are not purposeful in doing what is necessary to be prepared to go to college.”

Davis and her class targeted youth ages 11 to 14. Because the social work students were looking to influence at-risk children, they contacted social workers who work with this population, as well as mentors and foster parents.

“Social work students planned the marketing of the event, established a tour to expose children to highlights of college life, developed teams for the tours and designed a T-shirt for the event and decorations for the room,” explains Davis.

Social work students led the College Dream Tour last spring for youth ages 11 to 14.

During the event, children and their mentors enjoyed a pizza dinner and a tour of Mason’s Fairfax Campus, which included stops in the library, the Johnson Center, a classroom, a computer lab, a dining hall and a residence hall room. Along the way, students oriented the children to what college life was like.

Both the children attending the tour and their adult mentors enjoyed the event. One mentor replied in an online survey, “The little girl I brought said on the way home in the car, ‘I think I will go to college.’ That is a success!”

“These are the children who are told most often that they should not even consider going to college,” says Davis.

“We believe this event to have been life-changing for participants,” she concludes.

This year’s tour, with the theme of “Step to Success,” will have some new and different elements, with plans for an exhibition step show for the students to attend.

“I have been inundated with e-mails from people who have kids who definitely want to participate [this year],” Davis says. “We are very excited.”

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Dimensions 2010 magazine.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu