SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Over 300 students from Ben Reifel Middle School visited college campuses today courtesy of the Promising Futures Fund.

The fund’s college visit initiative supports low-income students and schools with high rates of poverty like George McGovern, Whittier and Ben Reifel Middle Schools. Students at Ben Reifel visited Augustana University, Dakota State University, South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota.

“The idea is to get them to understand that college is available to them if they want and they can be anything they wanna be when they grow up, they just have to work hard and set their mind to it,” said Steve Hildebrand, founder of PFF. “This is really about opening their eyes to the possibility of what’s ahead for their future.”

According to the Promising Futures Fund, poverty rates in the Sioux Falls School District have risen to 48%. Hildebrand said a lot of the students at Ben Reifel would be first or second-generation college students and may not have ever stepped foot on a university campus.

Adam Ericcson, assistant director of admissions at Augustana University, says days like this for students are a good way to get them thinking about higher education and introduce them to what a college campus feels like. 

“We’re giving them the opportunity to see that Augustana is an option for them and that college is an option for them,” Ericsson said. “We’re trying to expose them to the type of experiential learning that we do on campus, which is a lot more hands-on and more engaging than just sitting in a class at a lecture.”

The 8th graders who visited Augustana attended sessions on chemistry, mass media and communications, theater and more.

Layla Berte, an 8th grader from Ben Reifel Middle School, really enjoyed the activities her class did in the chemistry lab. Augustana professors and students were there to teach the kids about bodily reflexes, the properties of water and other science experiments. 

“We went into a couple classrooms and learned the things that they learn at college,” Berte said.

Along with workshopping the different areas of study the college has to offer, the Ben Reifel students got to hear from several Augustana students about what their college experience has been like and what they could expect if they choose to pursue higher education. 

Nora Winckler is a junior at Augustana majoring in government and English and minoring in journalism. She gave the Ben Reifel students the advice that they don’t need to know exactly what they want to do yet, or even when they get to college. Winckler herself ended up changing her major, which she doesn’t regret. 

“Doing that, I met my favorite professor, I met like five girls who are some of my best friends in the world, I got introduced to the newspaper here, so I started finding what I wanted to do past college,” Winckler said. “Just taking that class and wondering ‘Why am I here?’ can be one of the best things you can do for yourself.”

Kasten Dede, an 8th grader from Ben Reifel, said he enjoyed talking with the college students and getting advice from them. 

“It made me feel more confident for high school with my grades, obviously they matter, but don’t get stuck up on them is what I heard from one person,” Dede said.

Ericsson said the Promising Futures Fund college visits not only benefit Augustana with introducing potential students to the campus, but allows systemically non-dominant students to see themselves at a university.

“It’s all about planting seeds,” he said “We want them to understand that the opportunity is there and the people that they interacted with today on campus, every single person is here for them.”