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West Valley City Journal

With a little PREP in their step, underrepresented students are college-bound

May 06, 2024 10:15AM ● By Jet Burnham

Jordan PREP Plus students have fun exploring technology. They will graduate high school with 30-plus college credits. (Photo courtesy of Stacy Pierce)

“Without PREP, I'd be a loser right now,” West Jordan High School graduate Arlen Villalba Guerrero said. “I wouldn't be very far, just the same old boring stuff, getting ready to do a job that I didn't even enjoy.”

Arlen is one of 15 students graduating from high school with an Engineering Drafting and Manufacturing Technology Certificate of Completion from Salt Lake Community College through Jordan School District’s Pre-freshman Engineering Program (Jordan PREP).

Jordan PREP students, many of whom are typically underrepresented in STEM careers, take four years of science, technology, engineering and math summer courses to prepare to earn 30-plus general and engineering college credits by the end of high school.

Arlen joined the program his sophomore year and immediately began to explore his options.

“Being in PREP, you get to think so early about how you're gonna get to what you want to do,” he said. “PREP makes you do so much better and shoot for so much more. I know everything I wanna do right now. I know exactly how to get where I wanna be, and I know exactly what I need to do to get where I wanna be.”

Arlen is now on the pathway to become an Air Force fighter jet pilot, with a head start and higher pay grade due to his college credits.

Natalia Solis said the PREP classes she took as a 12 year old helped her discover her interest in drafting and interior design. She is already on her way to earning a college degree, the first person in her family to do so.

First generation college students, those from economically disadvantaged families or underrepresented minority groups make up the majority of the students in the Jordan PREP program, which recruits interested students from Title 1 designated schools to motivate and prepare them for STEM careers.

Jordan PREP Coordinator Stacy Pierce has been amazed by the students’ dedication to the program despite difficult life circumstances.

“You've got kids that you had no idea the challenges they had at home—and the challenges got far greater—and they're going to make it,” she said. “They're going to graduate from this program regardless of those challenges.”

She said the rigorous academic enrichment courses students take each summer during their middle school years, prepare them academically, socially and mentally for advanced courses in high school and increase their opportunities to attend college.

“Because it's not a camp—it's a rigorous academic program— I think that's been key to making these kids believe that they could do anything and pursue any career,” Pierce said.

She said the math courses have the biggest impact.

“Math is the gatekeeper that keeps kids out of, say, 80% of the higher paying jobs that help these kids break into a different economic level,” she said. “To help them maintain and build that math confidence—I think it's absolutely huge.”

Anna Fotheringham said staying academically active during the summer with PREP courses gave her an advantage.

“You learned a little bit of math before [school started], so when you did math [in school], you already kind of knew what you're doing,” she said. “So I feel like it gave me a step ahead in regular classes, and then also just in life, because we have a lot of college classes done that kind of set us up to, if we want, pursue the certain career that they have set up for us to go into.”

When she was younger, Anna wanted to work in a nail salon but is now planning to earn a manufacturing degree.

 “Doing programs like this made me realize that doing nails is not really going to give me enough money to live on my own, basically,” she said. “It made me realize I can do harder careers.”

Ayden Bascom said many of his friends don’t have a post-graduation plan yet, but that PREP taught him to think ahead.

“In PREP, especially with Stacy [Pierce], she tells you this earlier, to be prepared for life,” he said.

Natalia said the expectations set in PREP classes, especially during her middle school years, helped her set higher goals.

“It pushed me into showing myself that I can do harder stuff than I had set myself to, because I had set my standards low for myself,” she said. “You can do much more harder things than you think you can.”

Lai Lai Havili almost dropped out of the program but is glad to be graduating high school with college credits he can use as a fallback plan if his dreams of playing in the NFL don’t work out.

Talon Johnson, who has always known he wants to be a chemical engineer, said the PREP program has not only given him a head start that will save him time and money, but the confidence to be successful in college.

“I have this foundation that a lot of other students may not, and I can push