The University of Nevada, Reno’s Dean’s Future Scholars (DFS) outreach program has been helping young students work through middle and high school with its enrichment and academic programs since 2000. Five years ago, DFS began its Youth College Internship Program where high school students can earn college credits at UNR in the morning and work as an intern of a university department in the afternoon. The program saw about 50 high school students and graduates finish their summer internships Wednesday.
Mariluz Garcia, director of DFS, said the benefits of the program come in hordes for students who take advantage of studying and working at the university during the summer.
“A lot of our kids find employment with the people they intern with so it is a good trial run for the departments at the university to see if they like them and can invite them back,” she said. “They learn to navigate the campus very quickly. They have contacts at a lot of different places and can go to the DFS lounge if they get stuck. It helps build confidence and builds a lot of comfort with the university.”
Garcia said DFS reaches out to 10 different Title I schools in the county each spring to find motivated, hard-working students to enter its enrichment program in the seventh grade. From there, DFS can provide academic tutoring and recreational activities to help keep the students working toward high school graduation. Upon entering the internship program, DFS has allotted 43 sites for students to work on campus, such as the College of Education, the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center and several other campus buildings.
Jennifer Zarco, a graduate assistant for DFS, completed the program during high school and now helps organize and write grants for DFS. Zarco said coming into the program not knowing what to expect from college can be an uneasy feeling initially.
“Before coming in, I thought I was going to be among a lot of people who already knew they were going to come to college, but I didn’t know if I was going to be able to,” Zarco said. “It made me feel like I belong here. Now these kids feel they belong here and they know who to go to when they are struggling. It makes them feel they can do it themselves.”
Maureen Morton employs two or three interns every summer in the College of Education’s Learning Resource Center. She said the students not only helped complete the department’s list of summer duties, but proved the DFS program has collected hard-working students.
“There used to be a negative perception about taking a DFS student when it first started, but if you listen to the people today you can see the whole perception has just turned around,” Morton said. “I think it gives them a chance for people to see what value they can be and to prove themselves. You cannot just walk into a job, you have to prove yourself first.”
Brenda Valadez, a recent graduate from Sparks High School, spent two years in the DFS program working on gaining college credits. She worked in the Reynolds School of Journalism shredding and filing papers, copying documents and running errands around the campus this summer. She said DFS helped define the line between high school and college, allowing her to prepare for the journey ahead.
“They were the bridge between high school and college, and by guiding us along they eventually let go of our hands and say you can do this on your own because you have been doing it for so long,” she said. “(DFS) really supported me and introduced me to people who were in the same situation as me. I couldn’t have gotten to college without them.”
Valadez will be entering UNR this fall and plans to study nursing after finishing her core curriculum.
Alejandra Hernández Chávez has been a member of DFS since she was in sixth grade. This summer she worked in the office of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada (ASUN) where she and other interns planned special events during the summer for the campus.
Now that she has been hired as a student employee at ASUN, Hernández Chávez said she owes much of her success to the support of DFS.
“DFS got me in the mindset that I have to be here and that it is the norm to go to college,” she said. “My parents didn’t graduate from college. My dad dropped out of high school. My mom did some technical school, but I would never have known about college if it wasn’t for DFS.”
Hernández Chávez said all of the people she began the program with finished with her Wednesday, showing her that people who come from first-generation college families will be by her side for encouragement and reassurance.
“It’s an honor to have been part of the program. I have always loved the program and we have kept everybody from my generation,” she said. ”I don’t know many people who would drop such a great opportunity.”