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Ernesto Duran is an AdviseMI college adviser serving at Millington Senior High School in Millington, Mich.


I started my time as an AdviseMI college adviser in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which presented great challenges when pushing for students to get college exposure. Additionally, when your service site is located out of district to any community college or higher learning institution, in-person college visits become more difficult. While I give tremendous credit to all of the college representatives who were more than willing to adapt traditional visits to a virtual platform, I could sense that my students longed for a first-hand experience. After two years of virtual learning and excelling in their classes through constant changes, I felt the students deserved a field trip to an actual college campus.

So, after a year of exclusively virtual visits, the time finally came for scheduling a trip. Choosing the right campus for my students to visit was a no-brainer. I was excited to take students to my alma mater, Oakland University, and it was a great opportunity to show the students they don’t have to go far to “get away.” Oakland University is located about an hour drive south of my service site, allowing the students the chance to earn on-campus living scholarships, while at the same time being close enough to home that they can go back at a moment’s notice. The community I serve in is a very self-sufficient community, so the fact that Oakland University is a “fee-free” institution was appealing to my students when they realized the support the university would provide.

Within a couple days of announcing the field trip on the student’s web page, I had a dozen RSVPs. By the time the buses were boarded a few weeks later, we had twenty-eight students and two teachers ready to visit Oakland. Most of the students on the visit were seniors, high-achieving students still looking for the right match and fit. We also had a few juniors who were eager to start exploring the college-going process.

From the moment we arrived on campus, I could tell the students had more pep in their step compared to walking down to the library for a Zoom call with a college recruiter. The undergraduate admissions staff was more than helpful, making sure the students had as much of a personalized visit as possible. The students were split into three walking tour groups based on their academic interests, and they appreciated being able to see the specific classrooms, labs, and technology available to them if they were to enroll. The tour guides even went beyond the normal tour route so that my students could get the most out of the day. A highlight for many of those who attended was the opportunity to sit in on a few minutes of the men’s basketball team practice in the Athletics Center O’Rena. Not only did the students get to experience the feeling of walking the campus, but they also got the feeling of being connected with the campus community. The career services director of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, the dean of the Honors College, and the senior vice president of the university all took time out of their day to interact with my students and teachers and make sure they felt welcome. At the end of the tour, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions was generous enough to provide lunch for our entire group, and the students were excited to have so many options to choose from in the Pioneer Food Court, compared to their typical cafeteria meal. As the students gathered their free swag bags and loaded the bus to depart, they were already asking me when and where the next field trip would be. I honestly couldn’t tell you who had more fun, the students on their first college field trip since the start of the pandemic, or me, having the opportunity to live a full circle moment and bring my students on a tour of my alma mater, where I gave tours for three years.

What I didn’t expect was students to coming to my office the very next day with their friends, who were asking about what they missed out on. I felt a sense of fulfillment as I sat back and watched my students carry the conversation about the labs and programs Oakland offered. Right then and there, they wanted me to go through the application process with them. Knowing that the opportunities I am providing to the students is not only informative, but also leaving a lasting impression, encourages me to keep pushing for college experiences while I serve. For some students, visiting a college campus is the same feeling you get when you attend your first professional baseball game after watching it on your television for so many years. It’s the summer sun, a fresh hot dog, and your favorite ball cap that makes the experience more than a game. When these students began to re-board the bus carrying their Oakland swag, a fountain drink from Panda Express, and eyes wide open from the wind of the walking tour, you could tell it meant more to them than just a college presentation. The college-going process is more than just reaching for the horizon, it’s smelling the grass and feeding the squirrels along the way.