When Jessica He was 17, she knew that she wanted to attend a private college in the city. She visited College Board’s website and applied to schools like Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern University.
“They looked fabulous online,” she said.
But after visiting the schools, she had a change of heart.
“When I took the tours, they were really intimidating, and it was a huge slap in the face for me,” she said. “I didn’t know where my school stopped and the city began.”
He talked of her experience at an event called “GO PUBLIC!” at the Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School in Orange. The event promoted public state universities to the community, focusing on high school students and their parents.
Student and faculty speakers from Westfield State University, Mount Wachusett Community College, Greenfield Community College and the University of Massachusetts were also in attendance.
He, a public health major with four minors in psychology, sociology, anthropology and kinesiology, represented UMass at the event.
Also from UMass was Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who talked about the University’s “world class” research experience for first year students and emphasized the school’s breadth of choices.
“If you decide you want to do something else, you can switch,” he said.
Robin Bowen, vice president of Academic Affairs at Fitchburg State University who has worked at a range of private colleges and large universities, emphasized the quality of public schools, like UMass.
“I really do not see much difference between a public institution and a private institution,” she said.
Greenfield Community College President Dr. Robert L. Pura talked about the relationship between students and faculty at GCC.
“All of our business faculty say we don’t want students making appointments. We want to build offices where we’re right there where we’re available to our students,” Pura said.
Mount Wachusett Community College President Dr. Daniel Asquino also focused on students’ interactions with faculty.
“I see beautiful facilities, but it is not about bricks and mortar,” he said. “I would like you to see the faculty, the staff, and the people, who every single day engage our students.”
Michael Lewis, 53, studied at GCC and talked about his past as a student before attending the college.
“I didn’t like high school,” he said. “I was a social outcast growing up as one of the few black children in a mostly white town.”
Lewis viewed classes at GCC as opportunities.
“You have a chance to reach for the stars,” he said. “You have a chance to find out who and what you are, and what you do.”
Amber McHale talked about her experience at MWCC. She enrolled in a program called “Gateway to College” in which she earned college credits while still attending high school at Mahar. After graduating in May 2011, she enrolled at MWCC to become a technician.
Another speaker, Stephanie Close, was a first generation college student at WSU. At first she had no idea what she wanted to do, and saw the liberal arts college as a way to find out. At Westfield State, she discovered her passion for history, political science and public service. Close got involved in the student government and she plans on running for office.
“It changed my life,” she said.
At the beginning of the event, State Sen. Stephen Brewer encouraged all students to attend college.
“The promise of America is to make sure that you have opportunity, no matter how rich or how poor, or how hard working,” he said. “If you have the drive or initiative to be what you want to be in this world, we want to make sure that you have that opportunity.”
Mary Reines can be reached at email@example.com.