Math and science academy sparking student success among at-risk students

Dramatic photo of books in monotone with one book exposed and in focus saying, "Remember to dream"
Dare To Dream offers students the opportunity to strengthen their math or science skills, earn high school credit, and get a taste of what life on a college campus is like.

By Steve Nakata, Division of Student Affairs

WSU freshman Cecilia Manjarez can hardly contain her excitement when discussing her plan to become a physician’s assistant after graduation. The kinesiology major is fascinated with the inner-workings of the human body and is hungry to gain more knowledge that will enable her to help injured and ill people someday.

Manjarez is quick to point out that growing up, she never envisioned herself going to college, let alone aspire for a career in the health field. She comes from a single-parent home in Wenatchee, Wash., where she lives with two younger siblings. During summer vacations, she joins her mom packaging cherries picked from nearby orchards. During the harvest season they often work 15-hour days with no days-off.  No one in her family has gone to college and her high school teachers never encouraged her to think about it.

That changed one day when a school counselor invited her to attend the Dare To Dream Academy on the Pullman campus. Dare To Dream is a one-week summer residential program funded by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction Migrant Education Program with support from the Association of Washington Principals. Academies are also held at the University of Washington, Central Washington University and Eastern Washington University.

Full immersion

Dare To Dream offers students the opportunity to strengthen their math or science skills, earn high school credit, and get a taste of what life on a college campus is like. All at no cost to them. At WSU, students participate in classes taught by WSU instructors; take field trips to places like Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, the WSU Bear Research Center and WSU Sports Science Laboratory; and attend workshops that teach them how to apply for college admission and financial aid. The students sleep in a residence hall and eat in a dining center.

Anita Peralta in profile
Anita Peralta

The planning is led by WSU’s College Assistance Migrant Program, a federally-funded program that supports students from migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds during their freshman year of college. Two Dare To Dream Academies are held on the Pullman campus each summer, each hosting about 100 students from around the state.

“These students are in some way at-risk of not graduating from high school,” said Anita Peralta, program coordinator in Cougs Rise and recent CAMP staff member. “Many of them have moved frequently while growing up, lack role models, and face language barriers.”

But among those participating in WSU’s Dare To Dream Academy over the past four years, 45 are currently enrolled at the University.

Changed the picture

Manjarez had never been on a college campus before and was a little intimidated by it at first. But Dare To Dream mentors, WSU students who come from migrant and seasonal farm working families and are often themselves graduates of Dare To Dream, quickly put her and the other participants at ease.

“It was their encouragement to attend college that completely changed the picture for me,” said Manjerez. “They told us that college is something we can do, and if they are doing it, we can do it, too.”

WSU junior Julissa Parra-Zamora had an idea she could go to college, but had no idea how or where. When she was invited to Dare To Dream, her family had just moved to Quincy, Wash., and she thought WSU might be located in Seattle.

“At first I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of coming here,” she admitted, “But I started meeting people and loved it right away.”

Smooth transition

WSU Freshman Esteban Fuerte hasn’t made up his mind whether he wants to be a teacher, a physical therapist, or a sports manager. Sporting a 3.7 grade point average during his first semester, he knows he has many options.

From the time he was 13 years old Fuerte picks fruit during the summers in the Yakima Valley. It’s a hot, tiring job. One he knows he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life.  He credits Dare To Dream for showing him a different path. It not only taught him how to get into college, but also how to be a successful college student.

Group photo from left to right Lisette Gonzalez, Esteban Fuente, Julissa Parra-Zamora, and Cecilia Manjarez
Group—WSU students and Dare To Dream Academy alumni Lisette Gonzalez, Esteban Fuente, Julissa Parra-Zamora, and Cecilia Manjarez

“It gave me a really good idea of what to expect, the types of things I will learn, and how I should prepare for my classes,” Fuerte said.

Freshman Lisette Gonzalez remembers learning how to code in her Dare To Dream math class and applying it to the field of robotics. She said it was a little intense and overwhelming at first, but the experience proved to her she could master college-level coursework. Now she aspires to get accepted into WSU’s College of Nursing.

“If I didn’t attend Dare To Dream, I don’t know where I would have ended-up,” she said.

A lasting impression

The group’s field trip to WSU’s anatomy lab made quite an impression on Manjarez. While the other students were squeamish viewing the cadavers, she found it fascinating and wanted to learn more about human anatomy.  It was in that WSU lab that she found her true calling to pursue a health career.

“At one point they passed around a human heart, a brain, and other organs,” she exclaimed. “It was really cool.”

The Dare To Dream mentors had experienced similar revelations when they attended the Academy and are eager to share their personal stories with the participants. Peralta calls them the backbone of the program. Twenty are hired each summer, ten for each week of the Academy. The entire staff goes through intensive training provided by WSU and the OSPI.

Peralta said the impact they have on the participants is nothing short of amazing. Post-Academy surveys reveal 87 percent of them plan to attend college.  Manjarez, Parra-Zamora, Fuerte, and Gonzalez keep in contact with their mentors and still call upon them from time to time when they need advice.

“The mentors and staff have very inspirational stories about how adversity helped encourage them to pursue a bright future filled with passion and love for their careers,” said Peralta.

Now that they are experiencing success at WSU, the Dare To Dream graduates are eager to become mentors and share their own stories with a new class of Dare To Dream students next summer.