CORVALLIS - Oregon middle school and high school students will visit Oregon State University in the coming months as part of a new college awareness and enrichment program called Oregon Gear-Up.

OSU received approval and funding for the project from the Oregon University System.

About 75-100 high school students will come to the Corvallis campus on April 20 for the daylong program, and 100-150 middle school students will be scheduled for a late spring visit, according to Michele Sandlin, director of Admissions at OSU.

Many of the students will be from French Prairie Middle School, Valor Middle School and Woodburn High School in Woodburn; Patton Middle School and McMinnville High School, McMinnville; and Waldo Middle School, Stephens Middle School and McKay High School, Salem.

"Gear-Up is a college readiness and outreach program for students in K-12 that encourages middle school students to begin thinking about the possibility of college and how to prepare academically for high school," Sandlin said. "The focus for high school students is on continuing their college readiness preparation and guiding them through the entire college admission process."

Beyond the nuts and bolts of attending college, though, is an opportunity to "wow" students - many of whom have never considered the idea, says Carl Thomas, associate director of Admissions.

"Many of these students would be the first from their families to attend college," said Thomas of the Gear-Up students, who often are from low-income or under-represented minority families. "We'll tailor the programming to the appropriate audience - high school or middle school - but exciting them will be a big part of what we'll do.

"We may, for example, take them to OSU's Tsunami Wave Basin and let them learn about the wave research that goes on at Oregon State," he added. "The idea is to get them excited about the academic environment and interested in what a college campus is all about."

As part of OSU's Gear-Up program, the Office of Admissions will partner with the university's award-winning SMILE Program. SMILE - Science and Math Investigative Learning Experience - is one of the university's best-known pre-college outreach and education programs.

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Carl Thomas, 541-737-4588