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High schoolers head to Cal U for 'College Knowledge'

Jessica McCann, 16, of West Newton, a junior at Yough High School, discusses attending college with Gina R. Hipps, a Yough High School guidance counselor, at the What is Your College Knowledge program at California University of Pennsylvania.

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By Joe Napsha

Published: Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When Laurel Highlands senior Hannah Kemp graduates in June, she wants to go to college and possibly pursue a career in criminal justice in hopes of becoming a detective some day.

Kemp, 17, of South Union took the opportunity to do some research into what life is like for college students at the “What is Your College Knowledge” program at California University of Pennsylvania on Nov. 20, where representatives from Cal U, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and the Community College of Allegheny County told them what to expect in college.

Kemp, who applied to Cal U, said she learned that “when you are here (in college), they will help you” with academic support.

Kemp, who is also considering studying to become a physician's assistant, was among about 180 students — mostly sophomores and juniors from Yough, Greensburg Salem, Laurel Highlands and five Allegheny County schools — who heard about college life from professors, administrators and college students who are living it.

“The most important part is they were hearing it directly from the college students, as well as seeing the campus,” said Andrew Loy, a Laurel Highlands guidance counselor who brought 15 students to the program.

Guidance is available to the students in college, “but it's not necessarily spoon-fed,” Loy said.

The students had the opportunity to learn “what a successful college student's life is like,” said Jackie Foor, director of development and new programs for the Consortium for Public Education. The consortium, a McKeesport-based nonprofit that works with Western Pennsylvania school districts on various initiatives, joined with Cal U in sponsoring the event on campus.

The program targeted sophomores and juniors who are in the process of deciding about attending college “so that they can make a good decision” about their future, Foor said.

Yough School District sought to bring to the College Knowledge program those students whose parents may not have attended college, said Gina R. Hipps, a guidance counselor at Yough High School.

Some students have the ability to attend college “but may not be able to do it without direction,” Hipps said.

College-bound students may need some assistance “to make better financial decisions,” Hipps said.

Students learned that colleges want high school students to “take advantage of every opportunity they have,” including participating in extracurricular activities that can count toward gaining admission, Hipps said.

One of those Yough students, Jessica McCann, a junior, already has a plan for her path beyond high school.

“I want to go to a large school and study engineering,” possibly the University of Pittsburgh or Penn State, she said.

For some students, having success in college “comes down to the student believing they can complete the academic program,” said William Edmonds, director of admissions at Cal U.

As daunting as college may seem to students, Edmonds advised the students not to shortchange themselves.

“Whatever you choose to do as a student, put your best foot forward,” Edmonds told them.

Students should not be deterred from completing their education if they must take a “stop out” — leaving college for a semester or two so they can get a job to earn enough money to return to college, Edmonds said.

Whether a student takes three years or five years to earn a degree, the most important thing is “to complete this segment of your life,” Edmonds said.

Loy said he believes one of the big challenges for Laurel Highlands students is to get the student's family involved in their child's pursuit of higher education.

Students should take advantage of opportunities, said Geraldine M. Jones, California University interim president.

Jones, who has been at Cal U for 40 years, acknowledged the challenges of students managing “the newfound freedom” they have when they leave home and attend college.

“Go back home and tell yourself, ‘I too can do this,' ” Jones advised.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or



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