Most children are taught never to look directly at the sun. During a campus visit arranged by the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), a professor surprised a group of middle-school students by asking them to do just that.

The students were on campus as participants in an intensive summer program run by Higher Achievement, a college-access mentoring organization for students in fifth-through-eighth grades.

According to the Higher Achievement website, “More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be attributed to unequal access to summer-learning opportunities.”

Therefore, visiting a different university each summer has become a cornerstone of the Higher Achievement college-access mission.

Temperatures reached nearly 100 degrees on the day the group arrived on campus in July. All 120 Higher Achievement scholars came prepared to live like “typical” college students for a day: staying in dorms, eating in the dining hall, and taking Zumba classes in the recreation center.

Like many first-year students, the middle-school visitors quickly adjusted to the endless opportunities of college life. They played music on traditional Balinese instruments, explored plants and animals around the lake, and even looked directly at the sun through a filtered telescope.

“My favorite part of this trip was being able to go to the library,” one student said. “Not just because it was cool inside, but also because I love to read. And because there were lots of books to read and because the way they were set up.”

In addition to the library tour, University staff members gave the scholars tours of the football arena and basketball stadium, Gottwald Center for the Sciences, and the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature.

Higher Achievement scholars also attended panels about campus life, the admission process, and financial aid. Parents of the youth participated in a separate panel where they could ask questions about the admissions process and financial aid.

In addition to the campus visit, the CCE connected Higher Achievement to its new Urban Education Fellowship by funding four Richmond students to work as full-time teachers at the Higher Achievement Summer Academy.

“When Higher Achievement came to Richmond in 2010,” said Higher Achievement executive director Tyren Frazier, “the University of Richmond was established as our first university partner. Each year, I am pleased to see our relationship flourish and grow.”

This fall the Higher Achievement students again intersected with University of Richmond students who were volunteering as mentors at two Richmond middle schools through Pathways to a College Experience (PACE), the CCE’s civic-engagement program focused on college access.

“Through the vision of the CCE and the hard work of many at the university,” Frazier said, “we are able to create a new opportunity for our scholars—the opportunity that college is within reach and ‘I can attend the University of Richmond.’”