Sweat was pouring down Raquan Mitchell’s face as a group of 11- and 12-year-olds crowded around him, hoping to be added to Mitchell’s list of Instagram friends.
Mitchell, a liberal arts major, and the sixth-graders had just wrapped up a spirited game of touch football at CSU’s indoor practice facility, and the time had come for the youngsters to board their busses and return to Lincoln Middle School. It was difficult to discern whether Mitchell or his newly made friends were more disappointed that their time together was ending.
“Man, I wish had something like this when I was a kid,” he said. “I just hope we made a difference for these kids. I know something like this would have really helped me when I was their age.”
Making an impact
The “this” Mitchell referred to was a sixth-grade visit day sponsored by CSU Athletics, the Division of Enrollment and Access and the Division of External Relations. The event was the largest of its kind featuring Poudre School District students ever hosted by CSU – Lincoln’s entire sixth-grade class of 220-plus students came to campus to learn about the college experience by exploring campus highlights with first-generation college student volunteers, eat lunch and spend time with CSU student-athletes.
The showcase moment, however, was a “first-generation panel” that included Mitchell, fellow Rams basketball player Che Bob and softball player Alison Petty. CSU invited four students from outside Athletics, volunteers with CSU’s Reach Out program in The Access Center, to join the panel as well: Ashley Castro, Luis Loya, Brian Talavera and David Ruybal. Reach Out aims to increase access and opportunity to CSU for students of diverse backgrounds.
Sharing their stories
The purpose of having the seven students – all the first in their families to attend college – was simple: Share the message with the young Lincoln students that attending college is a realistic goal. The sixth-graders peppered panel members with questions for an hour, asking about everything from the cost of college to why they chose CSU to how much time they spend on homework.
Because Lincoln is the middle school home to Poudre School District’s Newcomer program for students new to the U.S., Charlene Peterson, Lincoln’s librarian and the school’s liaison for the visit day, requested that one of the students answer questions in Spanish. Loya, a sophomore from Commerce City, answered questions in both English and Spanish.
Following the panel, students were taken on campus tours, followed by lunch at a campus dining center, and concluding with some play time at the Indoor Practice Facility with more than a dozen CSU student-athletes from various sports.
The visitors seemed to thoroughly enjoy the day, offering a variety of thoughts about their experience.
Tyson Danford, 12, enjoyed hearing the viewpoints of the students on the panel.
“I learned a lot listening to actual students and hearing their experiences,” said Danford, whose grandfather, Max Danford, teaches classes in legal and ethical issues for CSU’s College of Business. “I also liked the campus tour and seeing all of the interesting architecture.”
Dafny Alferez-Perez, 11, liked it when Mitchell and Bob demonstrated their ability to dunk the basketball, but also learned a lot about what it takes to go to college.
“It was interesting to learn what I have to do to get ready for college,” she said. “I really like it here – the campus was nice, and the people are nice.”
Lunch is served…and served…
Jose Romano, 11, is an aspiring actor who wasn’t particularly interested in what the student-athletes had to say but did learn a valuable lesson: “I can do whatever I put my mind to,” he said.
Of course, there was another important perk: The all-you-can-eat format at the dining center. Romano, who might weigh 70 pounds, proudly proclaimed that his lunch included a hamburger, fries, a waffle, chicken strips, pizza, ice cream and two Cokes.
Peterson said the experience is invaluable for Lincoln’s students, many of whom would be first-generation college students.
“You can see how excited they are to be here,” said Peterson, who helped organize a Lincoln visit day to CSU in 2017 with around 50 students. “This is a great opportunity for them to see and hear what college is really like. Getting to meet the players is important, but it’s also important that they get to hear that going to college is within their reach.”
Bob, who grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., talked about how his lack of academic preparation in middle and high school led him to attend junior college before realizing his dream of playing Division I basketball. He has overcome numerous academic challenges while at CSU but is on track to earn a degree in liberal arts.
“Academics is just as important as sports – and you can get scholarship for that, too,” he said. “Start now – you don’t want to get behind on your academics. Start good habits and they will stay with you.”
Biggest kid in the room
Mitchell, who ended the 5-hour visit day by playing touch football with Rams teammate Anthony Bonner and student coach Tiel Daniels against a horde of enthusiastic sixth-graders, was having a hard time saying goodbye to his newly minted friends.
“I really enjoy helping young kids – I’m happy to do anything to help them get through their day,” he said. “I really hope we had an impact on these kids and got them thinking about college. That would make me really happy.”