During a tour of Duke West Campus this month, Marissa Lazo shared memories of her Duke student experience with her 16- and 17-year-old students from Southern Lee High School.
Lazo, who graduated from Duke in 2016, is in her second year serving as a college adviser at Southern Lee High School in Lee County. Lazo is part of the Duke College Advising Corps, a program in which recent Duke graduates are placed in North Carolina high schools to help increase the number of low-income, first-generation and underrepresented high school students who apply for and attend college.
Seven of Lazo’s students visited Duke this month as part of a half-day College Mini-Camp for high school juniors. The students met with senior admissions officers from Duke Undergraduate Admissions to ask questions about the application process, learn about financial aid and scholarships, tour West Campus landmarks and residence halls, and eat lunch at the Brodhead Center.
“This program allows us to build relationships with the College Advising Corps advisers who are working in the schools, and it makes admissions officers look more approachable, more accessible to these students,” said Alecia Mahato, senior admissions officer with Duke Undergraduate Admissions.
This is the second year for the College Mini-Camp, in which about 90 high school juniors started their day at Admissions’ McClendon Commons and asked questions about applying to highly selective colleges like Duke. Mahato said she received questions about common mistakes that students make on their college applications. “It should be personal,” Mahato said about the essay that goes with a college application. “It should be about you.”
As part of the day, students even pretended to serve on college application review committees and separated applications into accepted, waitlisted and denied piles.
These students are in the “second semester” of their high school junior year. They are researching college choices and finalizing their college list. This year, they’ll actually apply, said Girija Mahajan, program director for Duke College Advising Corps. Mahajan works with 16 Duke College Advising Corps advisers, all Duke graduates, who are working in 16 N.C. high schools located in eight counties.
“The Mini-Camp is always a really nice way for advisers to highlight their own experience on campus,” Mahajan said. “Pointing out things that you remember fondly, it makes college all the more real for the students that advisers are working with, and for the advisers, it’s just a period of deep reflection of how their Duke experience has shaped them.”
During the campus tour, Lazo and her seven Southern Lee students walked past Penn Pavilion. Lazo pointed toward a residence hall and said, “That was my room. I thought I had one of the best spots.”
Lazo shared how she would have late-night study sessions at residence hall eatery Pitchfork Provisions, where she’d order the BLT sandwich and tater tots. As the tour walked past a sea of blue and white tents in Krzyzewskiville, Lazo described how Duke students were queued for tickets to the UNC game. “Everyone wants to go to the game,” Lazo said.
As a Latina, first-generation college student who was accepted into Duke, Lazo said she hopes her students can relate to her experience.
“What I really enjoy most is getting to work one-on-one with students,” Lazo said. “I hope these students don’t doubt themselves in the admissions process and maybe apply to schools that they didn’t think they could get into.”
All of the high school juniors were invited by their advisers to attend the College Mini-Camp because they are first-generation students or students of color who would be interested in applying to a highly selective university like Duke.
Southern Lee High School juniors and friends Britney Garcia and Jasmine Pineda said they are considering Duke University or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as their top college picks.
Pineda, 16, said she started thinking about college during her freshman year of high school. She is preparing to take the SAT assessment test again as well as the ACT. She’s interested in science, math and medicine as potential fields of study, and she said the College Mini-Camp opened her eyes to the fact that financial aid can make attending an institution like Duke a reality for her.
When asked what she was most excited about when it comes to applying to college soon, Pineda said, “Being independent and starting my future.”
The annual College Mini-Camp is a partnership between Duke College Advising Corps, Duke Undergraduate Admissions, Duke Financial Aid, Duke Student Affairs and the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling (SACAC).