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NMSU PREP course keeps kids college bound

Getting ready for college doesn't start the day after high school graduation, which is why New Mexico State University is helping enrich the education of middle and high school students through its Pre-freshmen Engineering Program, or PREP.

Many students are attracted to PREP because of the experimental labs, campus tours, guest speakers and field trips that are included in the program. Students also get to work in labs and take classes in logic, physics, technical writing and math.

"When students attend PREP, they become part of a community that instills in them the importance of staying in school, going to college and pursuing their dreams," said Erica Voges, project manager for PREP.

More than 90 percent of students who participate in PREP go on to pursue higher education. Many former PREP participants also return to the program to work as student mentors during the summer. The mentors assist instructors in the classroom, help with grading and lesson plans and help students with their homework and projects.

Kara Shervanick, 20, of Las Cruces was in the PREP program for three years while she was in high school and has returned as a mentor.

"The PREP program is inspirational and gives students the confidence to know that they are special and smart and should continue on with their education," Shervanick said. "I'm still finding what I learned in PREP helpful in college. I took a logic class in PREP and the things I learned then helped me in a programming class I took last fall." Shervanick also said she has made lasting ties through the PREP program and still keeps in contact with two of her former mentors.

Kevin Lett, 26, of Las Cruces is in his second year as a mentor at PREP. "There were a few students who were adamant about not wanting to participate in a project to make a solar powered fuel cell car. I think they thought it would be boring, but once they actually started the project they had a lot of fun."

This year, one of the projects students are working on involves making cement cylinders. The students must combine sand, gravel and concrete in the correct proportions to make the cement. The students then pour the concrete into a mold and place it in a "wet room" to let it set. The concrete is soaked in water to strengthen it and the students go back a week later to see how much weight the cylinder will hold before it crumbles. PREP students will test their final project Thursday, July 14, when they launch several types of rockets they have been working on.

"Many students have commented on their end-of-program evaluations that PREP makes learning exciting and that the instructors really care," said Voges. For more information about the PREP program contact Voges at esgerken@nmsu.edu.