Cougs Rise students in front of a building at UCLA.
Cougs Rise students visited Los Angeles last year and got a tour of the UCLA campus. This year Cougs Rise student groups are headed to Chicago and Orlando over Spring Break.

Academics are an integral part of the agenda for Cougs Rise students headed to Orlando and Chicago over Spring Break.

The 16 students going to Florida will visit NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and collaborate with students and staff at the University of Central Florida. Another 20 students are bound for Chicago, where they’ll visit the University of Chicago, take part in academic workshops and tour the Chicago Architecture Center.

For the majority of the participants – low-income students whose parents did not complete college – the trips will also provide invaluable lessons in planning, logistics and navigation.

“For some of them it will be the first time getting on a plane, navigating on their own,” says Cesar Munguia, a Cougs Rise project coordinator who will accompany students in Chicago. “We’re pushing those soft-skills and those experiences that they don’t get where they’re coming from.”

Cougs Rise is a program for high school students that helps prepare them for the transition to higher education. They are mentored by current WSU students and many take part in a summer program. The spring break trips expose the students to new experiences, help them gain confidence and help them believe their college dreams can be realized.

Araseli Solorio is leading the group headed to Florida, which is focused on math and science experiences, with fun mixed in. Students will participate in STEM-geared activities such as Exploring Careers in the Marine Sciences at Epcot and other activities bridging academics and experiential learning.

“It’s a big trip for them because they don’t have all these opportunities very often” she says. “One student has not stopped talking about the trip since he applied. It’s something new and exciting. Even if they do have the opportunity to travel, they aren’t usually able to go and see the things that we’re able to.”

Graduate student Jordan Raymond is serving as a mentor/guide for the trip to Florida. She is excited to spend time at NASA and hopes to pique the interest of the high school students toward careers in science.

“The point is to try to inspire them, to get excited about college and to have a degree in mind that they want to go and get after this,” says Raymond, who is studying mechanical engineering.

Munguia’s team of students in Chicago will focus on art, architecture and business as they visit the Windy City. The trip will also give the students practice in forming relationships with their peers. Students from five Washington high schools – Wenatchee, University, Rogers, Hudson’s Bay and Bremerton – will all be spending the week together.

“It’s like the transition phase from high school to college where they’re building new bonds quickly,” Munguia says. “Seeing how it concluded last year, a lot of them made great friends within a few days.”

Michelle Willie’s son Alexander Clements is a senior at Bremerton High. He joined Cougs Rise last year and after attending the Cougs Tracks Summer program, his outlook on attending college changed.

“Before he joined Cougs Rise I had concerns about him talking for himself and being responsible,” Willie says. “But going to (Cougs Tracks) definitely helped with that. He gained confidence, he had a great time, and he came away really excited about college.”