Community Science

Connecting K-12 students to college

K-12 Ambassadors partnered with the Ferguson Florissant School District to host a STEM Day for students at Airport Elementary.
K-12 Ambassadors partnered with the Ferguson Florissant School District to host a STEM Day for students at Airport Elementary.

For Laura Motard, a sophomore majoring in Neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis, volunteering has always been an important part of her life. When she arrived at the university, she wasted no time in connecting that passion to the needs in her new community.

As a freshman, Motard joined K-12 Connections, a program run jointly by the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, Government and Community Relations, and the Institute for School Partnership. As a K-12 Ambassador of the program, Motard committed to being a champion for the needs of local schools, educators and students. From leading campus tours to creating STEM activities, Motard, along with 15 other ambassadors, gives local students a taste of what college is like.

Why did you decide to become a K-12 Ambassador?
I volunteered with kids a lot in high school. I mostly worked with elementary school students, so I already knew that I enjoyed doing that. And I thought that K-12 Ambassadors was particularly interesting because it specifically focused on exposing K-12 students to college life, which I think is very cool and a big need in the St. Louis area.

What has your experience been like since you started?
It’s a lot of fun, and I think that we have an equal amount of bringing students here (to campus) as well as going to their schools and a big variety of activities that we do. My favorite part is that kids always ask about college and about what it’s like, and that is always a big focus of the trip, whatever the activities are. We have fifth graders asking about college, and I wasn’t even thinking about college at that age. I think it’s really cool that they’re already thinking about it and aspiring to it.

What has been your favorite trip/experience you’ve had with K-12 Connections?

K-12 Ambassadors partnered with the Ferguson Florissant School District to host a STEM Day for students at Airport Elementary.
K-12 Ambassadors partnered with the Ferguson Florissant School District to host a STEM Day for students at Airport Elementary.

We went to Airport Elementary in 2015 and did STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities. We built marsh mellow structures, which was a lot of fun just because of how excited they were. Sometimes it can be hard because the students may not always focus on the activity. But whenever that happens, I have to remember that it’s equally important that we’re there and we’re doing an activity with them. They’re still having fun, and they’re still getting something out of it by interacting with college students.

What have you gained from the experience?
I think that it’s really helpful to go to the schools. I always gain more when I go there versus when the students come here because it allows me to see where the students come from. I think it can sometimes be intimidating for them to be here on campus, surrounded by college students. So it’s nice to get to know them somewhere they feel comfortable. Also, I think it’s helpful to understand the context of the students, because when we bring them here, we don’t know what their school environment is like necessarily. I’ve learned a lot about the St. Louis education system, and it’s good for us to know how WashU fits into it. That’s something the ambassadors talk about at our meetings: what WashU should do, what WashU is doing, and what WashU can do, in order to be most helpful to K-12 schools in the area.

I think it’s important for all K-12 students to know that college is an option. I don’t necessarily believe that college is right for everyone, but it definitely should be an option. Everyone should know about it, and everyone should know that it is achievable.

Why should other students become K-12 Ambassadors?
I really enjoy being an ambassador. We’re a small group, and we could definitely use more members. But it’s nice that everyone knows everyone else in the group. It’s a very supportive group of people. I think everyone is very conscientious and aware of what we’re trying to do, not just in the WashU community, but in the St. Louis community as well.

It’s easy to stay within the WashU bubble. You could spend your whole four years here and not even think about what’s happening outside. Because we’ve been given so much privilege and are able to go here, it’s really important that we are able to spread that around a little bit. The focus on connecting students in the St. Louis area to college is a very worthy mission.

Do you think that all WashU students should volunteer in general?

Yes, definitely! I love volunteering. I was a part of Key Club in high school, which was just a volunteering club. I think it is super rewarding. It makes St. Louis feel more like your home, and I think that it has definitely helped me feel more at home here in St. Louis by doing various volunteering activities in the community. I hope to maintain some degree of volunteering throughout my life.

April 2016 | by, Gennafer Barajas

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