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PALS helps students see possibilities

A summer program called PALS provided 20 boys and girls from eastern North Carolina with a taste of higher education and, perhaps, a glimpse of the future.

PALS, which stands for Preparing for the Agricultural and Life Sciences, was organized by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Diversity Council, which is chaired by Dr. Lisa Guion, CALS assistant dean for diversity, outreach and engagement. From July 25 through July 30, PALS brought middle school students to the North Carolina State University campus for a residential summer science enrichment program.

PALS was about possibilities. Guion said the program was designed to give the boys and girls who attended inquiry-based science experiences and career guidance, particularly on careers they might pursue armed with a college degree in an agricultural or life sciences discipline. The program also provided information on what the students would need to do in order to move beyond high school and attend college.

That last bit of information is particularly important, Guion pointed out, because all the participants came from families unfamiliar with higher education. If the boys and girls who participated in PALS end up attending college, they will be the first in their families to do so.

All the PALS participants came from limited-resource families, Guion added. The 12 girls and eight boys who attended all receive either free or reduced lunch at their schools. They were chosen for PALS after being referred to the program by teachers, principals or community leaders.

CALS and university faculty and staff provided their time and expertise to make the program a success. Liz Driscoll, N.C. Cooperative Extension associate in Horticultural Science; Stephanie Gorski, graduate research assistant in Entomology; Clayton Morrison, graduate research assistant in Microbiology; Melissa Scherpereel, Extension associate in Poultry Science; and Debbie Ort, research specialist in Poultry Science, all provided hands-on lab experiences, while Brent Jennings, Extension associate in Animal Science, engaged the students in hands-on activities at the beef and dairy educational units at the Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory.

The students also took field trips to the N.C. Museum of Life Sciences, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, and Phytotron. In addition, Myron Burney, N.C. State assistant director for admissions and Dr. Gerri Williams, associate director of the offices of Scholarship and Financial Aid and director of Pack Promise, provided information on financial aid and scholarships, while Melissa Kahn, CALS Career Services assistant director, gave a presentation on agricultural and life sciences careers.

Students came from Carteret, Duplin, Edgecombe, Jones, New Hanover, Pender, Tyrrell, Wayne and Washington counties. Program evaluation data demonstrated that the effort was a success. All the students indicated they were more interested in attending college when they graduate from high school, while 89 percent said they like science more and 72 percent were more interested in pursuing a degree in science as a result of the PALS experience.

— Dave Caldwell