Doctor? Astronomer? Actor? UVA Shows Local Students How To Reach Their Dreams

August 1, 2023 By Matt Kelly, Matt Kelly,

Local middle schoolers visited the University of Virginia this summer to explore the kinds of careers that could be in their futures – and learn about the kind of education needed to achieve those dreams.

The students were part of UVA’s Starr Hill Pathways, a free, three-week summer program.

“The goal of the program is to support students from the community exploring career and college pathways,” program director Lucy Montalvo said.

Now in its third year, Pathways has grown to host about 180 students, who explored more than a dozen potential careers.

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To make that happen, a collective of 22 community organizations, individuals and University departments introduced the students to opportunities including astronomy, filmmaking, data science in sports, performing arts and veterinary medicine. The Pathways Program, which operates under UVA’s Equity Center, is part of University President Jim Ryan’s strategic initiative for UVA to be a good neighbor to the community.

“The Virginia Department of Education has categories of 17 career clusters that students at the high school level should explore,” said Montalvo, a former local teacher with a master’s degree in school administration and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction. Some of her former students, as well as her son, are in the Pathways program.

“My world is education,” she said. “When this program was developed, I wanted to be a part of it.”

Albemarle County Public School buses carried nearly 200 students and counselors to UVA’s Observatory Hill Dining Hall for breakfast. After a hot meal, counselors divided the students into career groups. The daily field trips stretched from Clemons Library on Grounds to Wildrock in Crozet, which helps people develop a connection to the environment. The students spent the afternoons in workshops and recreation.   

Montalvo said the Pathways students watched demonstrations in places such as the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“There were a lot of professors and graduate students who were showing their labs,” Montalvo said. “We saw a lot of different types of demonstrations, such as a physics Ph.D. student who worked with kids to make their own blackberry-juice solar cell. We visited the John Paul Jones Arena and went back to the locker rooms. We went to Scott Stadium and met a lot of the sports teams. We met the women’s basketball coach and she spoke to our kids.”

The students created short films, built robots, groomed horses, used a laser printer, wrote books, painted, and kayaked in the Rivanna River. They also toured local employers, including The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, NBC 29, the Botanical Garden of the Piedmont, Willowtree and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

One such venue was the Virginia Polo Center. Don Calhoun, a founding member of the Virginia Polo Club, approached Ryan about having local youth introduced to horses and equestrian careers. Ben Allen, executive director of the Equity Center, was enthusiastic and Virginia Polo coach Lou Lopez, who holds a teaching degree from Colorado State University, helped with the details.

“This gives the students an opportunity to be around horses that they may not otherwise get,” Lopez said. “This may spur a career opportunity for them. My first exposure to horses at 14 determined my whole life.”

Montalvo said working with horses could be a step toward veterinary medicine or being a veterinary technician, both among the careers with which the students were presented. Later, the students visited a veterinary clinic, where they watched a surgery, as well seeing technicians prepare another dog for surgery.

The week concluded with an exposition at Sandridge Hall in John Paul Jones Arena, where organizers showcased the work of the students across 16 career pathways. Once students enter the program in seventh grade, they remain in it until graduating from high school, with the three-week summer camp only a part of the year-round program.

“We have programming during teacher workdays on the public school calendar,” Montalvo said.

Montalvo said the program connects with the participants’ school counselors and principals, working together with the schools to make sure that the students are supported.

‘Inside UVA’ A Podcast Hosted by Jim Ryan
‘Inside UVA’ A Podcast Hosted by Jim Ryan

“We also plan on having events where families will be informed of what’s next in the students’ timeline within the pathway selection,” Montalvo said. “We plan on offering families orientation on topics such as financial aid and the admissions process, having people from the UVA Financial Aid Office come for the event and help with providing orientation to families or help them fill out the financial aid applications.”

Montalvo said the program will support students with seeking college scholarships or attending a trade school.

“We want to offer students exposure to the wide variety of options post-high school graduation,” Montalvo said. “If they are interested in applying to UVA, Piedmont Virginia Community College, or any other institution, we will support them through that process. We want them to give them broad information, and then they’ll know where to go from there.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications