In the middle of educational possibilities

by Janet Smith


Bev Walker holds a swinging door for group of students to enter room

Ah, spring, the season for school field trips. Usually taken to historical or entertainment sites, the trip destination for nearly 1,300 middle-school students this spring is James Madison University.

Here, they are embarking on the purest Webster’s meaning of “field trip” – “a trip away from the classroom to permit the gathering of data at first hand.” As participants in the Middle School Visit Program, the students from Virginia schools are experiencing the university up close and personal in customized programs during visits scheduled from mid-March through late-April.

“The aim is to get middle schoolers thinking about college,” said Bev Walker, middle school coordinator in JMU’s Division of Access and Enrollment Management. Walker, who joined the office in January, draws from her own JMU experience to make each visit valuable and memorable for the students.

Growing up in Richmond, the daughter of educators, Walker had the advantage of knowing the possibilities higher education offered. Unlike many of her fellow students at Lucille Brown Middle School and Huguenot High School, where just imagining a future including college was unlikely, Walker’s main concern was paying for a college education.

Her exposure to JMU’s Professor in Residence Program and the Office of Admissions through the persons of Dr. Cindy Klevickis, Dr. Oris Griffin and Monyette Martin put JMU on her radar. It helped, too, that two of her favorite teachers at Huguenot were JMU alumni.

Already a stellar student, Walker worked hard in high school and graduated as class valedictorian in 2007, and with college education financing secured by earning a coveted spot in JMU’s Centennial Scholars Program, she joined the freshman class at JMU in the fall.

“I was a Duke from then on,” Walker said. She completed her degree requirements in May 2011, earning a B.A. in psychology with a minor in family studies, and then immediately enrolled in JMU’s master’s program in school counseling. After her 2013 graduate commencement, Walker worked in a mental health group home in the Richmond area.

By keeping in contact with Martin, Walker learned of the Middle School Program Coordinator position opening, and jumped at the opportunity. Since returning to JMU, she has arranged visits for 14 groups, topping out the capacity of the program for the spring semester.

“It's a team effort for the good of the students,” Walker said. A critical part of Virginia’s educational requirements for each student to have a personal learning plan that aligns academic and career goals, the Middle School Visit Program gives participating students a good look at JMU.

Academic faculty members and student volunteers make the program a success by customizing presentations and activities, conducting campus tours, answering questions over lunch on campus and generally serving as role models, Walker said. Her own connection to JMU, forged years before she enrolled as a student, is serving the university and future students well.

“I believe my job is to help middle-school students understand how today’s decisions affect tomorrow’s possibilities.”

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April 13, 2015

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Published: Monday, April 13, 2015

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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