The journey to higher education began early for area kindergarteners last week with a visit to campus and a sneak peek at college life.

Indiana University Kokomo partnered with the United Way of Howard County, the Kokomo Family YMCA, and the Community Foundation of Howard County to start that conversation, hosting the third annual “Walk Into my Future” event.

“Children rise to what is expected of them,” said Cathy Valcke, director of external relations and public affairs. “We don’t expect them to come away knowing their future career today, but now they’ve been to a college campus and they see that it’s not intimidating. It’s a fun place to be.”

During their time on campus, students visited two dozen educational stations, where they listened to their own heartbeats with nursing students, drove robots, viewed the sun through a telescope with a solar filter, made fingerprints in clay with criminal justice faculty, and ran an obstacle course.

Future police officers Carson Smith, Elijah Fisher, and Mia Sutherlin, all from Boulevard Elementary, agreed that they are going to college to start their careers.

“You have to learn to be a police officer at college if you want to get a job,” Mia said.

Her classmate Madison Miller also said college will be part of her future, “because I need to learn how to be a dolphin trainer.”

Boulevard teacher Cari Richards wants students to understand they will need education beyond high school.

“They enjoyed touring the campus and finding out what careers are out there,” she said, noting that her students’ favorite part of the day was visiting the Spanish ten, where they learned some Spanish, played musical instruments, sang, and dance.

At Eastern Elementary, kindergarteners will follow up the experience with College Go week, teacher Kacee Dean said, by discussing required education for specific career paths.

“The fun activities give them an idea of what kinds of things they might be able to do as college students,” she said. “They get the idea that college is possible for them.”

Eastern kindergarteners Adeline Powell, Kaitlyn Woodall, and Londyn Coffman all have decided they are going to college. Londyn said she knows education is important, because her mother Sarah Coffman just graduated from IU Kokomo.

“You have to go to learn,” she said.

Whatever dreams these kindergarteners have, Abbie Smith, president of the United Way of Howard County, emphasized it’s important for them to know the adults in their lives, and in their communities, support them.

“This plants a seed for their futures, and their hopes and dreams,” she said. “Kids need to believe in themselves and their futures, and know that we believe in them, too.”

As part of the Howard County Promise, each child’s parents may open a CollegeChoice 529 savings account, and the Community Foundation of Howard County will put the first $25 in the account. When the child’s family, or supporters, add $25 to the account, he or she will receive another $75 through a community match.

Children in kindergarten who have a college savings account of $1 to $500 are four times more likely to go to college than those who do not. For children from low- to moderate-income families, it increases the odds by seven times.

For more information, go to howardcountypromise.org.

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.