Students from Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston recently toured Texas A&M University in College Station to get a firsthand look at campus life.
Coordinators said the visit was made possible by a grant to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service from the Children, Youth and Families At Risk program of the U.S Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
The 37 10th- and 11th-grade students were given a tour of the Memorial Center, Visitor Center, Texas A&M University Bookstore and various campus landmarks. Students were accompanied by AgriLife Extension professionals who coordinate CYFAR program activities in Harris and Bexar counties.
“These kids are on a work-study program at the school and are from low-income areas in and around Houston,” said Rocio Reyes, program assistant for the CYFAR program in Harris County. “This was a unique opportunity for them to visit a university campus and get a close-up look at everything university life has to offer.
“They asked a lot of good questions about the school, especially about the engineering school and the courses available. Many were interested in the Corps of Cadets and several had questions about the libraries and library hours. Our tour guide, who was in the Corps of Cadets, also told them about the variety of clubs and social activities available.”
A main objective of the CYFAR program is to expose at-risk youth to institutes of higher learning and get them excited about the possibility of going to college, said Dr. Melinda Garcia, AgriLife Extension program specialist and CYFAR program coordinator in Bexar County, who helped arrange the tour.
“CYFAR grants help the nation’s Cooperative Extension System and land-grant institutions use their resources to assist individuals who may be at risk of not developing the skills needed to live productive and positive lives,” Garcia said. “By giving these young people – most of them minorities — involved in our CYFAR programs the opportunity to go on these field trips and meet college students and instructors, we let them see what’s possible for their own lives.”
Fralonda Aubrey, AgriLife Extension agent for urban youth development who coordinates the CYFAR program in Harris County, said the students were excited to visit the university and get a taste of campus life.
“They were also very interested in learning about Texas A&M traditions,” Aubrey said.
She said even though Cristo Rey is a college preparatory school, the school has no budget to pay for student visits to institutes of higher learning.
“The funding we received from CYFAR made not only this visit possible, but also a visit to Texas A&M by a different group of Cristo Rey students earlier this year,” she said.
Aubrey said other school activities in conjunction with the CYFAR program include a “teaching garden” to educate students about agriculture and nutrition and opportunities to learn about STEM — science, technology, engineering and math – subjects.
“This fall, our emphasis will be on the garden and on showing these young people that it’s possible to grow their own food,” she said. “They’ve already grown tomatoes, peppers, kale, broccoli and other vegetables. Now we’re going to the school to give them a cooking demonstration using the vegetables they’ve grown.”
Next spring, Aubrey said, the Harris County program’s emphasis will be on STEM subjects, especially the use of robotics, and on informing students about career opportunities in agriculture.
“We’ll be using robotics to show how technology is important to agriculture,” she said. “We’ll also be planning a student visit to Houston Baptist University and another visit to Texas A&M.”
Aubrey said AgriLife Extension and Cristo Rey have a joint mission to expose urban youth to agricultural sciences and careers, agricultural collegiate programs, healthy living and community sustainability.
“We especially want to enhance the understanding of agricultural sciences, engineering and agribusiness for youth in urban areas,” she said.