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APL Staff Help High School Students Prepare for College

college students
College Prep 101 students spend a Saturday in
September visiting colleges.

Last summer and fall, 14 high school students gave up their Saturday mornings to attend College Prep 101, a 10-week program designed to help them prepare for the SATs, choose a college, navigate the college application and financial aid processes, and overcome some of the barriers that students face when considering college.

The program is the brainchild of William Gray, of APL’s National Security Technology Department (NSTD), who teamed up with Maryland MESA to offer College Prep 101 at APL. Nearly 50 students applied for the program, which Gray says indicates the need for this type of program in the community. The students were selected based on their academic qualifications and potential, access to resources, demonstrated interest in the program, and interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

“It’s exciting to work with the students each week. I love helping them open doors to future success in college and beyond,” says Gray. “It’s especially rewarding to help motivated students who face obstacles to success, such as limited financial resources, incomplete knowledge of the college application process, or a lack of encouragement. Starting a formal program to help students get ready for college has been a goal of mine for a number of years. I feel very fortunate that MESA, the Diversity Team, and APL have been so willing to sponsor the program and help me make the class a reality.”

Gray received quite a bit of support from APL staff as well. “Each week we have APL volunteers who come to work with the students on SAT preparation and other activities. We also are fortunate to have several APL volunteers who visit the class to tell their personal stories. We have great volunteers from the Hispanic Awareness Club, African American Culture Club, Young Professionals Network, and others. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much help Karla Roncal [also of NSTD, and Will’s wife] has been. She is helping as assistant director and teaching assistant for the course—I couldn’t do it without her.”

One Saturday this past September, Gray, Roncal and fellow APL staff member Richard Hooks took the students to visit Morgan State University, The Johns Hopkins University, and University of Maryland College Park. “Blair Fleet, a 2009 summer intern, showed us around Morgan State,” says Gray. “It was a wonderful trip, and we had absolutely perfect weather. We started around 7:45 a.m. and got back a little after 5 p.m. The students were so excited—most of them had never visited a college campus. They had a blast!”