NCPA camps bring college into focus for budding scholars

by Kateri Hartman | University Communication and Marketing

Ana Cortez Martir
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Ana Cortez Martir, a junior from Omaha South Magnet High School, works with her team as they develop a business pitch during their session at the College of Business.
June 15, 2022

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

  • Mimike Dolezal, a junior at Winnebago High School and member of the defense team, questions Goldilocks during the mock trial.
    Mimike Dolezal, a junior at Winnebago High School and member of the defense team, questions Goldilocks during the mock trial. Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
  • Ariana Lopez, assistant director of recruitment with the College of Law, helps prepare before the gavel dropped for the Goldilocks vs. the Three Bears mock trial.
    Ariana Lopez, assistant director of recruitment with the College of Law, helps prepare before the gavel dropped for the Goldilocks vs. the Three Bears mock trial. Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
  • The defense team cross-examines Mama Bear, played by Kyana Rios of Omaha South High School, during the trial. The event was held in the College of Law’s Sherman S. Welpton Jr. Courtroom.
    The defense team cross-examines Mama Bear, played by Kyana Rios of Omaha South High School, during the trial. The event was held in the College of Law’s Sherman S. Welpton Jr. Courtroom. Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
  • Zoie Haar, of Grand Island Senior High School, questions Papa Bear as part of the prosecution during the mock trial.
    Zoie Haar, of Grand Island Senior High School, questions Papa Bear as part of the prosecution during the mock trial. Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
  • Papa Bear, played Yanci Torres of Grand Island Senior High School, breaks down laughing while being questioned by the defense during the of the Nebraska College Prep Academy’s mock trial of Goldilocks vs. the Three Bears.
    Papa Bear, played Yanci Torres of Grand Island Senior High School, breaks down laughing while being questioned by the defense during the of the Nebraska College Prep Academy’s mock trial of Goldilocks vs. the Three Bears. Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
  • Melaki George of Winnebago High School, attempts to gavel the courtroom back to order as he and two other judges preside over the mock trial. The case featured NCPA scholars playing various roles within the courtroom.
    Melaki George of Winnebago High School, attempts to gavel the courtroom back to order as he and two other judges preside over the mock trial. The case featured NCPA scholars playing various roles within the courtroom. Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
  • The jury votes for acquittal following deliberations in the Nebraska College Prep Academy’s mock trial on June 8.
    The jury votes for acquittal following deliberations in the Nebraska College Prep Academy’s mock trial on June 8. Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
  • Goldilocks (second from left), played by Kaylene Dominguez-Argueta of Omaha South High School), celebrates with her defense team after being found not guilty of trespassing and other charges. The mock trial centered on the classic children’s book, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
    Goldilocks (second from left), played by Kaylene Dominguez-Argueta of Omaha South High School), celebrates with her defense team after being found not guilty of trespassing and other charges. The mock trial centered on the classic children’s book, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing

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.”

Scholars pause to enjoy time together and a few bites of ice cream outside of Herbie’s Market in Abel Hall on June 9.
Jordan Opp | University Communication and Marketing
Scholars pause to enjoy time together and a few bites of ice cream outside of Herbie’s Market in Abel Hall on June 9.

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.”

John Clark (right) reacts after tipping a Jenga tower during the Nebraska College Preparatory Academy’s Science Camp inside Abel Hall on June 9.
Jordan Opp | University Communication and Marketing
John Clark (right) reacts after tipping a Jenga tower during the Nebraska College Preparatory Academy’s Science Camp inside Abel Hall on June 9.

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.

Jocelyn Cabellos, a freshman at Omaha South Magnet School, holds her academy certificate for a photo as David Orozco-Garcia, an NCPA counselor for Omaha South calls up the next student.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Jocelyn Cabellos, a freshman at Omaha South Magnet School, holds her academy certificate for a photo as David Orozco-Garcia, an NCPA counselor for Omaha South calls up the next student.

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.

Junior-year NCPA scholars stroll by Archie the mammoth on the way to a College of Engineering session on June 8. The scholars toured facilities in engineering, law, business, and journalism and mass communications.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Junior-year NCPA scholars stroll by Archie the mammoth on the way to a College of Engineering session on June 8. The scholars toured facilities in engineering, law, business, and journalism and mass communications.

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.”

Freshman scholars from Winnebago High School pose for a group photo on June 8. Of the 335 students participating in the camps, 44 are from Winnebago, 99 from Grand Island, and 103 and 89 hail from Omaha South and Omaha North magnet schools, respectively.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Freshman scholars from Winnebago High School pose for a group photo on June 8. Of the 335 students participating in the camps, 44 are from Winnebago, 99 are from Grand Island, and 103 and 89 hail from Omaha South and Omaha North magnet schools, respectively.