Karla Miranda-Estrada is a basketball-playing fourth-grader who before Friday night had never set foot on a university campus.
But Miranda-Estrada and nearly 200 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from both Steele Lane and Lincoln elementary schools — some of them getting their first experience on a college campus — spent the evening at Sonoma State University, taking in the men's and women's basketball games, meeting coaches and getting autographs from Seawolf student athletes.
Miranda-Estrada was sold on college before the end of the women's game.
"Now that I've seen this place, I want to come here," Miranda-Estrada said between plays at the women's game that the Seawolves lost to Cal State Los Angeles 66-54.
That's the idea, according to Mike Ogg, SSU's director of business operations for the athletic department, who last year launched Ticket to Success with Steele Lane Elementary School.
That fledgling partnership has now grown into a program that brings fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from all 11 elementary school in Santa Rosa City Schools to the Sonoma State campus for a tour, athletic contests, dinner and meetings with athletes from multiple SSU squads.
The younger students get a glimpse of the college experience not normally included in campus tours, and the student athletes gain an understanding of their position as role models, Ogg said.
"It makes them feel like they are mentors in the community; these kids look up to them," Ogg said.
"Using a co-curricular activity to plant that seed about going to college was kind of unique," he said.
Since September, the program has brought more than 500 students to campus.
"I think it's a great way to get student buy-in," said Winnie Hogoboom, the interim principal at Lincoln Elementary School, where about 85 students, 20 parents and nearly every classroom teacher made the Friday night field trip.
For some students, it was the first time they had heard of the concept of a dorm. For others, it was a first meeting with a college athlete.
"Athletics is a really good face for a university and higher education," said Shawn Percell, associate head coach of the men's soccer team, who brought his squad to the event to sign autographs and meet students. "The whole thing for us is to have students see the student athletes. They are closer in age than coaches."
Although Friday's tour was canceled because of the rain, senior softball player Megan Konieczka said that is often her favorite part of the program.
"My favorite part of the tour is when we take them out to the graduation platform," the president of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee said. "I make them yell, 'I did it!'"
"It makes me happy, makes me feel good," she said. "It makes me proud to be a Seawolf."
(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)