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Virginia Tech reaching out to students to expand access to college

Giles County 5th grader Elle Mae Martin makes slime.
Giles County 5th grader Elle Mae Martin makes slime. (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

BLACKSBURG (WSLS 10) -  Virginia Tech is trying to reach more students and expand access to college all over the Commonwealth by partnering with local schools. Giles County fifth graders all took a field trip to campus learning what college life was like by walking the halls, eating on campus, and participating in STEM-focused activities in classrooms.

We were in the classroom when Eastern Elementary School students made slime by combining glue, food coloring and laundry detergent making a chemical reaction.

"I would like to be a polymer chemist but I would also like to teach horseback riding," said Giles County 5th grader Elle Mae Martin who doesn't have to decide just yet. "It's really fun being here today because I've never been inside any classrooms before at Virginia Tech."

"Hoping to learn more about what life is like in college," said Waylon Whittaker.

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Exposing elementary school students to campus is part of the Virginia Tech Kindergarten to College program.

"For many of them I don't think college is a part of their everyday conversation so that's just something exciting to get going," said Katie Ponzio, a Macy McClaugherty Elementary School teacher.

Programs like this are expanding access to college for students across the Commonwealth. It's a growing initiative at Virginia Tech.

"Research confirms that for students to be prepared to go to college we really need to start younger than we have been nationwide," said  Associate Vice Provost for College Access Dr. Karen Eley Saunders who oversees the new College Access Collaborative.

She says without parents or siblings that have gone to college it makes it harder for first-generation college students.

"They just don't know what questions to ask and many students and families may not even believe that college is a reality for them," said Dr. Eley Saunders.

"We live pretty close to Virginia Tech but a lot still aren't able to come and explore the campus so it's really exciting to see them experience it for the first time," said Ponzio.

Different schools come to campus for the visits in March and April.