Wisconsin Educational Opportunity Program (WEOP) took to the road during the end of June and mid-July to give nearly 60 students an opportunity to visit colleges and universities on the way to and along the East Coast.
WEOP’s mission is to “prepare youth and adults to pursue higher educational opportunities by providing college and career readiness programs, resources, and support.” Through a mix of federal grants, all WEOP programs are fully funded, so the youth attending the two college tours had an opportunity to visit the colleges without cost.
“We created these trips to show our high-achieving students some realistic post-secondary options they may not have considered or may have thought were out of their reach,” said WEOP advisor Rick Emerson.
For students participating in the WEOP, studying at an elite and/or private college might feel like an unrealistic goal. Yet, elite schools tend to provide substantial aid programs and other resources specifically designed for students from underrepresented backgrounds.
“We want college to be an option for all students interested in taking that path,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “These opportunities provided by WEOP help make the possibility of college a reality for many Wisconsin students.”
A number of the college tours included information on financial aid, emphasizing that students don’t need to be from wealthy or traditional backgrounds to be accepted. Some tours even emphasized that coming from different backgrounds can be a strength rather than a disadvantage.
“Interacting with the tour guides and learning how they got to where they are today compared to where they began was really insightful,” a student reported.
On the first trip, which drew from Racine and Milwaukee schools, 28 students embarked on a tour to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), including Howard University, Morgan State University, Hampton University, Norfolk State University, and North Carolina A&T. The students were selected based on their participation in WEOP during the past year, their GPA, and their response to an essay question.
In addition to providing students with the opportunity to see and experience potential colleges, the trip also included cultural enrichment. While in Washington D.C. to visit Howard University, students experienced the National Mall and monuments, the National Aquarium, and the Smithsonian African American and African Art museums.
The second trip, comprised of students throughout Wisconsin, was an Ivy League tour. The students traveled to a number of elite schools on the east coast, including Yale, Cornell, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They also did some sightseeing along the way, including a guided tour of the Freedom Trail in Boston. Like the HBCU tour, students were selected based on GPA, answers to essay questions, and involvement with WEOP.
“The WEOP summer college tour was a very fun and informative experience. I learned about many college opportunities I didn’t know I had and was able to have fun while still learning about all of the places we visited,” said one student.
“It was a great experience and I wouldn't have been able to do it without the tour,” said another.
Overall, student feedback was enthusiastic. Students emphasized the excitement of being on college campuses, the utility of learning about their options, and the thrill of traveling to a different—and for many students, new—part of the country.