Some 900 fifth graders converged on the campus of Western Washington University this week, embarking on a field trip to their futures.

It s a sort of pre-school for college education for kids like Alex Galvan. His teachers say he's a bright boy, but a borderline student. The son of Mexican immigrants, he hasn't given much thought to college, although his father, a dairy worker, has taught him the value of hard work.

He tells me do good in school and get good reports, said Alex.

It seems all Alex needs is a little inspiration. That's where Cyndie Shepard comes in. She spent 22 years in the classroom, but couldn't leave it behind. Shepard founded Compass 2 Campus, an all-volunteer mentoring project where college students connect with kids 1-on-1 from fifth grade all the way through high school. They help with school work, issues about growing up, but most of all they offer a real life example of what college looks like.

They sometimes think college isn t possible, said Shepard. And when they talk to our college mentors, they realize it is possible.

This week, the mentors took the kids on a tour of campus, from classrooms to mobile marine biology labs. Some even got to meet an actual astronaut. All of it is designed to give the youngsters a glimpse of college life.

Teacher Anna Malpica looks on in awe.

I love this program, she said. Love it.

She says she sees Shepard s system working every day at Nooksack Elementary.

Students get on the computer and look up colleges and different majors. They ask if they can go to school for this, or is there a school for that, she said. That's definitely something we didn't have before the program.

Shepard has expanded her program to five college campuses, from Washington to Wisconsin. She has put more than 16,000 kids through the program over 10 years.

Perhaps the greatest endorsement, though, comes from the mentors themselves - students like Cody Aguirre, who plan to spread their mentor's teachings in their own classrooms one day.

Cyndie is such an amazing woman, said Aguirre, a WWU Junior. That's why I want to become a teacher - to inspire kids to do great things.

As for Alex Galvan, he left campus with a new outlook. A few hours earlier he was ambivalent about college. Now, after seeing an exhibit about automotive engineering, he s found that elusive inspiration. Alex decided he wants to design cars when he grows up.

They learn a lot of stuff here and I can learn stuff about science, he said. I want to come here.

As the buses roll out, Cyndie Shepard is busy shaking hands and meeting program donors. It s been a whirlwind five hours for these kids. She simply hopes promising students like Alex will realize they can overcome their obstacles and get on board for the ride of their lives.

Even if we're only changing a few lives, we're changing lives.

More information on the Compass to Campus college mentoring program.

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