BELLINGHAM — Fifth-graders from Washington Elementary School in Mount Vernon spent the day Tuesday not at their desks doing math problems or reading, but at college learning how to sew and design a costume.

It was the fifth annual Compass 2 Campus day at Western Washington University, where students from schools throughout Skagit and Whatcom counties got to experience a little bit of college life in hopes of getting them excited about higher education.

“I like it, I want to go here,” said Mario Barraza-Garcia, 10. “It’s really fun.”

Barraza-Garcia said he had never been to WWU’s campus before or really thought about going to college. But now that he’s seen the campus and some of what they do, he wants to study theater, and costumes, and art, and science, and whatever else he can get his hands on.

“If you want a good-paying job, you need to go to college,” said Rodney Post, a WWU student and tour guide for the younger students.

Post, who is studying math and secondary education, said he hoped the students were inspired to go to college, or at least learned that it’s possible.

The students started the morning with an assembly with cheerleaders, pep band and the WWU mascot before breaking into groups to see what the campus has to offer. The Washington Elementary students visited WWU students in the costume design program, where they learned to sew with their hands and a machine.

“You get to steer it, like you’re driving a car,” said Rosevalarie Torres, 11, of her experience on the sewing machine. “Wherever you want it to go.”

The students also got to play dress-up with mannequins, turning them into superheroes and inventing their super powers.

“It’s always nice to get kids excited about theater in a way that’s not acting,” said WWU senior KateLynn Walker, who showed the students how to use the sewing machine. “And there’s a lot of opportunities out there in filmmaking and theater that people don’t really know about.”

The Compass 2 Campus program partners trained WWU student mentors from a variety of majors with students in elementary, middle and now high schools throughout the two counties. The goal is to get kids, especially those with less exposure, excited about higher education.

“Hopefully (we’re) inspiring and encouraging them to stay motivated throughout their academic careers,” said WWU student Cristina Swan.

Before their Compass 2 Campus experience, some of the fifth-graders who ended up attending may have been on the fence about college. Now they want to study to be veterinarians, doctors and nurses.

“I want to learn, finish school,” said Andrea Cerna-Villanueva, 10.

“…Have fun while finishing,” chimed in Justice Sharratt, 11.

Some students also visited the scholarships office on campus, a key place for making those dreams come true.

More than 900 students from 13 schools, including middle and high school students, attended the event.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141,, Twitter: @Kera_SVH,

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