Pinal County high school students take First Step toward college degrees at Central Arizona College

June 28, 2009
PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. – It surely was a first for members of the Pinal County Community College District Governing Board when Casa Grande Union High School student Makini Manu strummed his ukulele and serenaded them during the June 16 meeting at Central Arizona College’s Signal Peak Campus.
But Manu’s powerful American Idol-like voice coupled with his playing of the miniature guitar brimmed with the same confidence that he and other CAC First Step participants have gained this year.
“First Step is a program designed for Pinal County high school students who want to get a jump on college by earning credits during the summer months,” Doris Helmich, the vice president of student services, explained. “It also really eases them into a college setting instead of the culture shock that many freshmen experience when they first attend a college or university.”
The program is available during the summer sessions at each of Central Arizona College’s nine campuses and centers. Pinal County high school students who have completed their sophomore, junior or senior year and meet in-state residency guidelines may receive a tuition waiver to enroll in up to seven college credits.
Students take classes for credit and a grade point average side-by-side with the general CAC student population. The college also is offering additional support to students in the program by assigning faculty/staff mentors to every new First Step student through the institution’s extended orientation to college class.
This year the numbers have soared as students throughout Pinal County are taking advantage of the program.
“There has been a 65 percent increase in the program’s attendance this year over last year,” Rosemary Ramirez, the program director of transition programs at CAC, said as she addressed the Governing Board on Tuesday. “In 2008, 354 students took advantage of the program, while this summer 589 students have enrolled in the program.”
In addition to the enrollment spike, the number of credits taken this summer by First Step students has ballooned by 78 percent, jumping from 1,851.5 to 3,295.5.
“More than 70 percent of the students who took placement tests for the program actually enrolled in classes,” the Jani Attebery, the director of advising and testing who was instrumental in facilitating the program, added.
Manu was one of them.
“I am participating in the First Step program so I can get closer to getting my associate of arts degree for performance,” he said. “Also, so I can feel how hard or easy classes are, so when I go to a college or university I can be prepared for my classes.”
Manu, who is entering his junior year at Casa Grande Union High School this fall, received a bit of encouragement from his girlfriend.
“My girlfriend was doing the program and told me I should try it. So I did,” he explained. “While getting started I told my little sister about it and asked if she wanted to do it. She said no the first time. So I told her at least take the test and try to test higher so she said yes.”
Manu has some very specific goals – become a star college football player and get a shot at the NFL, and then retire and teach music. The teaching of music should be no problem after his performance before the board.
Zachary Russ, another First Step participant who is entering his junior year at Casa Grande Union High School, also is looking to bank credits before he graduates from high school.
“I want to get extra credits before graduating from high school so I can get a head start in college,” he said. “And my credits will transfer to high school.”
Russ received a letter in the mail about the First Step program and had a positive experience after going to the testing center and getting help from an advisor. Now his sister is going to be in the first step program as well.
“My goal is to receive my associate degree from Central Arizona College and get a bachelor’s degree in human resources from a university.”
For more information about the First Step program, please call Central Arizona College at 520-494-5111.


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