Recent Washington and Lee High School graduate and Montross native Daryl Fisher aims to achieve a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech.
His fellow graduate, Lizett Barajas, has aspirations of majoring in Kinesiology and minoring in Spanish at James Madison University.
But before they attend, an upstart program has given them the chance to hone in on the non-academic skills they need to achieve college success.
The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) has partnered with the Princeton Review to kick off UP NEXT, an initiative that seeks to impart soft skills such as time management and proper note taking to college-bound students.
According to Erin McGrath, the Access Program Manager of SCHEV, said these skills, which are not normally learned in the classroom, would help students survive the college experience.
“You’ve got all the academics, but what good are they if you can’t survive the daily stresses that come along with it?” said McGrath.
During the reception for the UP NEXT scholars held June 27, Brian Culbreth, executive director at The Princeton Review, told the students that only 29 percent of individuals who started 9th grade went on to obtain a college degree.
He added that people who attended college and then dropped out rarely did so for purely academic reasons.
“It’s all about how well you manage the lifestyle of college,” said Culbreth. “You have more free time than you ever had before, but you also have more responsibility.”
Westmoreland County Dr. Rebecca Lowry attended the reception and was “thrilled” to see that graduates from Washington and Lee had been selected as UP NEXT scholars.
“I believe the experience will escalate their academic transition from high school to college in a major way,” said Lowry. “The added bonus is that the focused exercises in planning and complex decision making will elevate their chances of success on other fronts as well: socially, emotionally, financially, etc.”
Lowry added her belief that UP NEXT would enhance students’ willingness to make significant contributions as citizens within their own neighborhoods, communities and schools “because good planning and foresight are skills valued throughout life.”
Sue Straughan, formerly the career coach at Washington and Lee High School, said UP NEXT is presenting a “wonderful opportunity” to the students selected for the program.
“It’s the kind of thing that so many students don’t get ahead of time and miss,” said Straughan. “It really is the key to success in learning how to manage your time, pick the right classes, hang out with the right people and balance out the whole ‘study versus party’ thing.”
Straughan added she wished that all high school seniors could take advantage of UP NEXT.
“I don’t think students have any concept of how helpful something like this can be, so I really hope they take advantage of it,” said Straughan.
April Fisher, an employee at WCPS and Daryl’s mother, said she was very excited for her son to take part in the initiative.
“I think he will be able to utilize the program and it will help him be less stressed,” said April, while her adding her hope that UP NEXT would become successful in preparing seniors for post-secondary education.
“Hopefully my son will be able to help somebody that’s starting next year, because it’s very important to network,” said April.
Daryl, who has had ambitions of attending Virginia Tech for mechanical engineering since his 9th grade year, said he hoped the program would teach him how to be “less stressed” and manage his time wisely.
“I think it’s going to give me key tips on winning in this big game called college life,” said Daryl, who will also be the first in April’s family to attend college.
April remarked that the main challenges would be staying focused and finding the right community.
“Who you put around you is how you succeed,” said April. “If you have a lot of negative people around you, it’s hard for you to succeed, but if you keep it positive and find the right community, you can go beyond.”
Barajas shared her thoughts that the UP NEXT program was going to be very exciting and beneficial to her when she went off to college.
“A lot of things that I will probably learn later on, I’m just going to get right now, which is really appreciated,” said Barajas, who will also have a job through James Madison University’s Federal Work Study Program.
“Hopefully I learn how to manage my time with social life and…I also don’t want to gain the ‘freshman fifteen,’” said Barajas with a smile. “So I’m hoping I can really, really balance everything out.”
Other graduates from Washington and Lee High School who did not attend the reception but will take part in UP NEXT are Timothy Anderson, Cara Harrison, Renita Jones, John McIntosh, Maria Murillo and Amanda Straughan.