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OSU junior Sadie Vela speaks Tuesday via an online Skype connection to students in Rose Zoellner's Transformational Pathways class at South Albany High School.

When you're getting ready to take the next step on your educational journey, it helps to have a guide who's been there and done that.

That's the theory behind Beaver Hangouts, a chance for students to converse via Skype with an Oregon State University student about what college life is really like.

Created in 2012, Beaver Hangouts is part of OSU's pre-college program and its coordinators are volunteers with the national service program AmeriCorps. Sixty-three volunteer OSU coaches are working with multiple classrooms in approximately 30 schools.

South Albany High School is the latest mid-valley school to join Beaver Hangouts, which is already in use at Monroe Middle School in Monroe and Seven Oak Middle School in Lebanon.

Sadie Vela, a junior studying botany, began Skyping with Rose Zoellner's Transformational Pathways career exploration classes last week. She will meet with them for 10 weeks altogether.

The program follows a specific curriculum but leaves room for questions. Study skills, financial aid and planning for a career are among the topics. Students on both sides of the camera are encouraged to share their own experiences.

"Today we're going to talk about time management," Vela told the 14 students gathered in Zoellner's class on Tuesday. 

High school schedules are very different than college schedules, Vela explained, outlining her own week: two classes on that particular Tuesday "and between them I'm with you guys," she said. Just one class on Thursday, then work. Wednesdays are the busiest, with classes at 9, 10 and 11, a lunchtime meeting and then four hours of work.

The thing about fewer classes, however, is that they come with twice as much work — sometimes more, Vela explained. Lectures plus labs plus small group work plus homework can run into seven or eight hours a week for just one subject.

"Are you overwhelmed by homework, ever?" one girl asked Vela. "Is it really hard to do?"

"I think at first I was," the junior replied. "Once you figure out how to manage time, it's like, I got this."

The nonprofit "I Have a Dream," founded to help low-income Oregon students succeed in college and careers, led to the creation of Beaver Hangouts, said Marisol Moreno Ortiz, AmeriCorps coordinator.

The coalition wanted to send OSU students to schools for coaching but travel proved problematic. Online access through Skype created the solution.

Participating schools need only have a Skype account and access time, Ortiz said. Students take surveys before and after the program to track the program's effects.

"Our mission at Beaver Hangouts is to try to provide all youth in Oregon access to college information, to make sure they have the information to be ready to come to college," said Kali Doten, OSU college access coordinator. 

That's especially critical in families who don't already have a college-bound tradition and where no one is familiar with filling out financial aid forms or the demands of a college schedule.

"We try to fill in those gaps," Doten said.

The program is in only its second week at South, but Zoellner said she thinks it will be advantageous for her students.

The 10-week program is an opportunity to create a connection with a student that goes beyond a campus tour, she said. The OSU volunteer has sat where they're sitting and knows what's going to be relevant.

"Our overall hope is that this program will better prepare our students for their path after high school, give them some direction on how to get there, and allow them to feel like they have made a connection with a friendly face at OSU," she said.


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