Douglas Winfrey was already considering a career as an auto mechanic. But a visit to Milwaukee Area Technical College’s campus in Mequon made the idea more real for the rising Rufus King High School senior.
"If I'm able to see it and touch it, get the feel of it, understand it from point A to point B — then that's a lot better than looking at paper," he said.
Winfrey visited the campus and got his hands under the hood of a car with 25 other campers from Lead Generation, a new summer program aimed at helping Milwaukee high school students prepare for college and learn about career opportunities.
The point of the day is to exposure students to the schools’ programs, like landscape horticulture and automotive technology mechanics, said Gregory Ware, an administrator with the MATC Institutional Effectiveness Division.
"They can see themselves more in that particular career when they have the hands-on experience, as opposed to just lecturing and paperwork," he said.
Friday was one of many outings for campers at Lead Generation, a seven-week summer camp based in Milwaukee. It’s run by MKE Fellows, a mentorship and professional development program for African American male college students. During those weeks, students earn an hourly wage as they improve their ACT scores, learn financial literacy skills and explore career possibilities.
Most of them, Ware said, haven’t been exposed to many career opportunities in a hands-on way.
The vast majority of campers are students of color, and most come from low-income backgrounds. Many will be the first in their family to attend college, like Jamila Hill, a rising senior at Milwaukee High School of the Arts.
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After graduation, Hill plans to study biomedical sciences or biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and eventually become a dentist or orthodontist.
But she said her family can’t offer much guidance on how to apply for scholarships and navigate college.
"I don't know who to ask questions. Everyone could say that they’re there for me, but no one's really going through the experiences that I'm going through," she said. "So it's really like I'm all alone."
She’s found some answers through Lead Generation. Hill said she has honed her study skills and learned to set realistic goals which will help her in college.
"I've worked with a lot of first generation college students, and one of the things that I find is true, is that you don't know what you don't know," MKE Fellows Executive Director John Daniels said. "And something as small as what is a housing deposit — if you've never met another college student to talk through what that means, when you enter college, that becomes something that could be a barrier for your early success."
This program, Daniels said, gives first-generation students the necessary skills to navigate college. By bringing them to campuses, it also helps them imagine themselves as college students.
"The earlier that you are exposed to opportunities, that you can see the possibilities, the more driven you are to achieve those things," he said.