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Christina Turchetto (left), Lara Fernandez (center) and Megan Faulkner (right) are members of the Summer Academy to Inspire Learning (SAIL) staff. University of Oregon students can volunteer for SAIL programs, which provide high school students with information about pursuing a higher education. (Marissa Willke/Emerald)

Due to COVID-19, the University of Oregon will hold its Summer Academy to Inspire Learning, a program designed to engage high school and middle school students, online. Registration for the 2021 summer program opens May 1. 

SAIL is a free pre-college program, with the mission to “inspire middle and high school students from low socioeconomic, first-generation and underrepresented backgrounds from across the state of Oregon.” 

SAIL typically runs over two weeks, with a different batch of students each week, usually totaling about 500 students, according to Lara Hernandez, the executive director of SAIL. Students participating in the program meet and engage with faculty, volunteers, college student mentors and other university campus resources. 

Students participating can choose a certain major path at the program, in which they get to experience mock classrooms and meet with faculty in whatever major they chose. Hernandez said the goal is that by the end of the week, students have an expansive understanding of all of the things they can do on campus as a specific major. Hernandez said she would rename SAIL to “impact” if she could. 

“Every year I am blown away with the impact we are having with students,” Hernandez said. “By helping young students who never thought higher education would be an opportunity for them, we’re helping many students year after year actually make it a reality.” 

Josie Thomas, the SAIL lead staff member, has been involved with the program since the summer of her eighth grade year, and continued to participate in the program all four years of high school. After coming to UO, she began working as a staff member. 

“As someone who has been involved with SAIL for quite a long time, I can honestly say that this program helped me build the confidence in myself that I have now,” Thomas said. “This program is what aided me in deciding to attend the University of Oregon, and helped me realize just how smart and capable I am.”

Due to COVID-19, the summer 2021 program will be virtual Monday through Thursday, and in person on campus Friday. While Hernandez said that she thinks being in person is especially important for the teenage population, the program has adapted to COVID-19 regulations. Hernandez said that over Zoom last year, the program was able to engage with the students’ entire family, which she described as a “silver lining.”

Adrian Sampedro Cruz, a SAIL summer counselor and the program’s Outreach Coordinator, said that SAIL staff have “truly been able to adjust to the virtual world all while helping students with whatever support they may need.” 

Thomas agreed. 

“We dearly miss seeing our students in person and getting to interact with them in person,” Thomas said. “Still, SAIL has persevered over this past year and is ready to do it again this summer.” 

Cruz said that as a first-generation recent college graduate who came from a low-socioeconomic background, this program is important to him. 

“This program allows me to share my story with other students who could relate to mine,” Cruz said. “All the people I have met through SAIL have truly made an impact on my life, and I wouldn’t change this experience for anything else.” 

Hernandez said that UO has about 100 past SAIL students attend the university every year, and that 92% of SAIL students who graduate high school go on to college. 

She said that the hardest part of the program is finding funding — both helping students connect with funding to make college a reality, as well as finding funding for the program. 

Volunteers predominately run SAIL, and all of the faculty members who participate over the summer are volunteering. Hernandez said that typically once faculty members and other volunteers get involved with SAIL, they see how meaningful it is.

“Some of them will say this is their favorite part of their year,” Hernandez said. “Once they get involved, they stay involved for a long time.” 

Cruz said that getting involved with SAIL has given him many unique opportunities and has allowed him to experience different leadership roles. 

“I wish that I would've known about this program in high school, because as a first-generation recent college graduate I would've benefited from SAIL,” Cruz said. 

Hernandez, Cruz and Thomas all said that one of the most important parts of the SAIL program is that it is free. 

“The fact that this program is free allows students from underrepresented communities access the resources and opportunities SAIL provides,” Thomas said.