Lincoln, Neb. —A mock trial offering a twist on Goldilocks’ classic breaking and entering adventure is among a variety of opportunities helping bring the future into focus for some 335 students from Grand Island, Omaha and Winnebago.
All members of the Nebraska College Preparatory Academy, the budding scholars are attending specialized summer camps, each session designed to introduce them to college life at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The academy is a program that mentors and develops first-generation college students from high school to an undergraduate degree. Participants are selected based on academic abilities and income eligibility. And each receives full scholarships for tuition, books, fees, room and board. The program currently focuses on serving students from Grand Island Senior, Omaha North Magnet, Omaha South Magnet and Winnebago high schools.
Slideshow | NCPA mock trial
For the summer camps, the scholars spent three days and two nights immersed in activities and programs that support the academy’s three pillars: knowledge, character and commitment. The students visited the university’s various colleges, explored career paths, toured campus amenities and built community with peers and mentors.
“NCPA scholars have proven educational success is achievable, no matter the circumstances, with the right academic and social support,” said Moi Padilla, NCPA director. “As a land-grant institution, the university is committed to expanding access to and success in college. NCPA is a testament to the university’s commitment to develop an educated workforce for the state and the nation, as well as ensure all students in Nebraska achieve their potential.”
For Ana Cortez Martir, a junior from Omaha South, the camps provided insight into college life and beyond. She dreams of studying immigration or criminal law at Dear Old Nebraska U.
“I’ve always really wanted to go into law because I feel that the community I live in needs more Latina lawyers,” she said. “I think I would be a good representation.”
A portion of the program focused on the university’s law school, offering students tours of facilities and a Q&A with current students. It also allowed the scholars to participate in the mock trial focused on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
The students served in various roles — supporting the prosecution, defending the accused, delivering testimony as witnesses, guiding the proceedings as judges and serving as jurors. Cortez Martir served as prosecutor, charging Goldilocks with unlawfully entering and vandalizing the bears’ home.
“I didn’t know what the different kinds of objections were before today,” she said. “I also liked seeing the library where students study and had a lot of fun with the trial.”
A typical day for a student at camp includes non-stop, on-campus experiences between a wakeup call at 7 a.m. to lights out at 11 p.m. Each activity directly supports NCPA’s overarching goal, which is to provide academically talented, first-generation high school scholars with social, academic and financial resources to be successful and earn a college degree.
In one session, current Nebraska U students and former academy members spoke with freshmen about their experiences with the program. For many, family background and financial circumstances would have made college dreams seem impossible. Once the students found the academy, they were able to come to the university and succeed as highly involved undergraduates.
Nationally, only 11% of first-generation, low-income students graduate from college. The academy’s 2016 cohort achieved an 85% graduation rate — 20 points higher than the UNL average and 33 points higher when compared to their first-gen, Pell grant-eligible peers.
To build community, the students were divided into cohorts based on grade level and camp schedules were tailored to meet current needs.
Freshmen attended Scholars of the Academy, where they learned about the academy and its requirements. This camp’s activities also focused on building community within the cohort.
Sophomores and juniors attended Summer Science Camps, which have an academic focus. They visited colleges and learned about majors, careers paths and student life.
Seniors participated in a research camp that leads to the creation of a required capstone research poster. Their time on campus focused on the research process and learning from university librarians.
Ultimately, the camps opened the door to new friends, community and future goals.
“This was my first time on UNL’s campus,” said Trinidad Tino, a freshman from Omaha South. “I loved the Campus Recreation activities and just getting to know everyone. I feel a lot more confident in approaching people and a lot more motivated to do well in school.”