MARSHALL - Nearly 20 high school age students completed a 3-day Youth Housing Careers Day Camp Friday at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, laying the foundation for making their dreams become a reality someday.
The second annual camp, structured after a fourth-year version in Worthington, introduced participants to a variety of resources and opportunities that could be helpful in their future, especially if they are interested in pursuing a higher education. In addition to getting insight into industry, small business and banking worlds earlier in the week, students also took a tour of Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington on Friday.
"The camp is actually amazing," said Hussein Osman, who will be a sophomore at Marshall High School this year. "I learned about Minnesota West. One of the differences between that college and this college (SMSU) is that it's a two-year college. SMSU is a four-year college. I never knew that. It's good to know."
Samantha Rachuy and Angel Bauman, who both work at Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, one of the four primary camp sponsors, said the students enjoyed touring the MnWest campus.
"They talked with a financial adviser and visited the culture corners," Rachuy said. "They could see all the opportunities there were to get involved."
Xai Xiong attended the resourceful camp in Marshall last year and gladly returned this year as a mentor for other students.
"I'm just here to help," Xiong said. "I already graduated and now I plan to start college at MnWest in Worthington.
Being at camp last year allowed Xiong the opportunity to see what type of options there were out there. The experience sparked a variety of interests, he said.
"It was really fun," he said. "I learned that in order for you to have a better job, you need a higher education. And, it's great to meet new people with different cultures."
Though he hasn't chosen a specific career path, Xiong plans to begin taking general classes this fall. After completing two years of study, he then plans to transfer to SMSU.
"I'm hoping to become a teacher," Xiong said.
Gustavo Estrada, Marshall Public School minority advocate, pointed out that the second-year program didn't just teach students about careers, though, but also about money management and other skills.
"I learned how to handle money," Osman said. "To do that, you have to have knowledge, time and skill. This camp is very good."
Osman still has three years of high school yet to make post-education or career decisions, but this camp, like it's meant to, has got Osman thinking about his future possibilities.
"I'm actually starting to think about my future more," he said. "The more I go visit colleges, the more it gives me ideas which one to go to."
On the first day of camp, participants filled out interest questionnaires that were designed to highlight potential career fields accordingly. Osman said he was somewhat surprised by the outcome.
"We took a test to see what kind of job you should get and my two highest scores were in law enforcement and in numbers," he said. "I was surprised I was a numbers person. I'm going to use that and look for a job that uses that."
Before students left camp, they spent an hour engaging in conversation with four SMSU college students. The panel discussion, with SMSU's Jessie Fitzer, Mai Ze Vue, Alyssa DeBoer and Francisco Martinez, allowed the high school students the chance to ask real, meaningful questions that were important to them.
"It's an adjustment," they all said in response to a question about how difficult it is to move away from home. "But you get used to it."
Vue, a junior, shared that her freshman year was the most difficult.
"My parents said I was on my own and that I'd have to get a job and pay for everything, like my own insurance and cell phone bill," Vue said. "But it was a good opportunity to be independent. That's what you need for your future. I'm still close to home, but people here are like my family, too."
Fitzer suggested that every college freshman get involved on campus. There are countless clubs out there to join, too, she said.
"You'll meet more people and make more connections," she said. "I also suggest finding the resources that are out there. It'll help you immensely."
The Academic and Diversity Resources office, which Vue and Fitzer both work at, can be very helpful, they said.
Though somewhat apprehensive at first, DeBoer said she quickly fit in at SMSU.
"I feel at home here," she said. "Everyone accepts you for who you are."
DeBoer said she also appreciated the "awesome events on campus" and the underground tunnels, which were "especially nice in the wintertime." The events, including Jell-O fights and dances, were a great opportunity to meet people, she said.
Campers heard about dorm life, study habits, class loads, clubs and other college concerns from the panelists.
"There are a lot of options, when planning your schedule," Fitzer said. "It's almost like a puzzle. Depending on your major and if you have a job, you just fit them together."
Finding a balance between class attendance, studying and spending time with friends is one of the most crucial elements, the panelists said.
"You have to set priorities," DeBoer said. "It's important to stick with your studies."
Regardless of any circumstances, or whether someone attends college on a part-time or full-time basis, the SMSU students shared their optimism that anyone can succeed, if they just keep working toward their goal.
"It may take several years, but it's possible if you just keep chugging along," Fitzer said.