As Karlee stepped onto Cazenovia College in central New York, far from her Adirondack home in Ticonderoga, she felt her anxieties swell. This new environment, suddenly filled with 31 other students from across New York state, New York City, and Boston was host to CFES Brilliant Pathways’ College Explore program last week. College Explore brings students to college campuses for a residential experience filled with workshops and activities about the college application process and how to become college and career ready. It also gives students like Karlee the opportunity to push the boundaries of their comfort zone, explore their potential, and realize that college and career success is within their grasp. “I wasn’t sure what to expect because I had never been on a college campus before,” said Karlee, “but I realized that the other students here hadn’t either.” For many students, the experience is life-changing.

The program was led by Anna Garson, who is part of the CFES Fellowship program that gives recent college graduates the opportunity to work for one year in CFES headquarters, and Shadey Trinidad, the director of the CFES Alumni Network. Program Director Elaine Dixon-Cross also led students through a variety of activities, including a reflection activity during the first evening on campus.

“You’re here because you’re thinking carefully about your future,” Dixon-Cross explained. “This experience is going to help you define your goals more clearly – what are you good at? What do you want to work on? What can you do now and what can you do later to help you achieve these goals?”

Over the course of the three-day program, students kept those questions in mind as they interacted with college professors and participated in college classes. They engaged in a range of disciplines, including photography, animation, sports management, and biology. For many students, the most exciting part of the day was visiting Cazenovia’s Equine Education Center. Student’s reviewed equine anatomy, learned about Cazenovia’s equine business management program, and toured the facilities.

“I’m interested in becoming a veterinarian, but I had never seen a horse in person before,” said Marcelina, a rising senior at Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Boston. “I liked that we got to compare horse bones with human bones. I want to be a vet because I love dogs, but now I like bigger animals too.”

On the final day, students were asked to find the connections between all that they had learned and their own path to college and career. “You have all accomplished so much over the past three days,” Garson said to the students. “You slept in a dorm with someone from a different school, you opened your minds to subjects you once knew nothing about, and you planned your pathway to college and career. You’ve grown as students and as people, and you’ll be able to take what you’ve learned here and share it with your peers at school.”

By the time the buses arrived at Cazenovia to bring everyone back home, the students had challenged themselves, made new friends, and started to see a clearer path towards post-secondary success. Karlee, once nervous about the journey before her, found her College Explore experience invaluable.

“I learned at least 10 new things a day, whether it be facts about the other students or new information from the college classes,” she said. “It was so much fun and I had the best time of my life — I definitely would do it again in a heartbeat. I felt so comfortable around everyone and never felt judged. I know it will take a lot of hard work, but I can’t wait to go to college.”