BLACKSBURG — Piper Shull already knew she wanted to go to college.

A trip with her seventh grade classmates from Shawsville Middle School opened a window for what it might be like.

Shull was with about 80 seventh graders from the school as part of “Dream Big: Imagine Yourself in Graduate School,” an event put on by Virginia Tech’s graduate school Tuesday.

“It’s been fun,” Shull said while walking across the Blacksburg campus. “It’s always best to hear from somebody about what something is like.”

The goal of the event is to expose kids to college and to further expose them to what lies beyond the first college step — graduate school.

“Hopefully we’re opening doors to new ideas,” said Marin Riegger, child care coordinator for Tech’s Graduate School.

It’s a critical time for these students to receive new ideas, said Andy Hipple, Shawsville Middle School’s principal.

Hipple said that seventh graders are preparing to form an academic career plan. As they transition from seventh to eighth grade, all Montgomery County Public Schools students form a plan to determine what they want to do at the end of middle school and throughout high school to begin a career down the line, he said.

Students take part in the event like the one at Tech, but they also do things like take the Virginia Wizard career interest survey to determine what kinds of jobs to consider in the future, Hipple said.

Partnering with Shawsville was a natural fit, said Riegger.

She said the county school district estimated 90 percent of students from the middle school would be first-generation students if they went to Virginia Tech. Hipple said that about 65 percent of students at his school are classified as “economically disadvantaged,” meaning it has the highest proportion of disadvantaged students in Montgomery County’s middle schools.

Those types of students are less likely to get exposure to colleges, Riegger said.

“Kids don’t know what’s out there,” Riegger said.

The middle schoolers were exposed to numerous activities Tuesday.

They soaked in scientific experiments in laboratories. They took part in virtual reality demonstrations at the library. They played games and got a tour of the McComas Gym to learn about recreation during college.

Riegger said that Montgomery County Schools and Virginia Tech administrators are already looking at doing another similar event next year. It’ll still be hosted by the graduate school, but hopefully students from Auburn Middle School can get involved, she said.

And even if students aren’t destined for something like graduate school, Hipple said, at least it has them thinking about careers of the future. Some of their careers likely don’t exist yet, he said.

Bottom line: The students will begin percolating ideas for what they should start looking at for jobs down the line and after they’re done with high school, Hipple said.

“We want to get them thinking that graduating high school is not a stop sign,” he said. “It’s only a yield sign of where you want to go next.”

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