NEW CASTLE, N.H. (NEWS CENTER) -- More than sixty young men from Washington, DC were glad to finally get off the bus when it rolled up to the University of New Hampshire's Marine Research Facility. They had traveled hundreds of miles north, a twelve hour trip, to step foot in a state few had visited before.
"We think it is a fantastic thing to pull them out of their comfort zone," exclaimed one of the group leaders, Kevin Mungin, who explained that many of the kids had never been north of New York City, let alone seen the rocky coastline of New England.
"When you go to the beach, you are mostly there to relax and swim in the water, you are not necessarily there to do research to find out and learn things," he stated. "One of the things we want to do is have students learn about what are they swimming in, what is in the ocean, what are you dealing with or encountering when you go to the beach."
He also hopes they see that there are a world of opportunities awaiting them if they stay in school and graduate.
"One of the things we are trying introduce our students to is STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math," said Mungin.
"I hope they get excited about science," Mark Wiley, assistant director for education with the New Hampshire Sea Grant, stated. "This is a great opportunity for us to share what we know about the Gulf of Maine and the New Hampshire seacoast with some kids from another part of the country and educate them a little bit about science and about marine science."
While the visit was a chance for the young men to get some hands on experience with a variety of marine trades, and even some sea creatures, the real goal was not teaching them but providing exposure to other opportunities they may never have known existed.
"We are not going to get a whole lot of knowledge necessarily into their heads, but what we do hope to get them to do is to think about how exciting, and how much fun, and how interesting science can be," admitted Wiley. "It is about giving them an experience that they can reflect back on and say, "I can do that. I could learn this stuff and be involved in this kind of work.'"
The youth are taking part in the College Success Foundation's Higher Education Readiness Opportunity, or H.E.R.O. program, and will tour the coast and colleges in the area for much of the next week. The program has provided assistance and guidance to more than 450 at-risk youth since it started six years ago.
"We've seen high school attendance improve, we've seen their grades improve, we have seen their decision making and social skills improve," stated Mungin, who says they've help boost participant's graduation rates to about 95%.
"Not only are we effecting those young men, but we are also effecting their families because they have younger siblings who also come up and join the program, too," he added.
"They don't want us to stay in the same place," explained sophomore, Brandon Frazier. "They want us to travel and experience new things about life across the world, learn new cultures and learn like new, different things."
He says the program has given him a scholarship and experience while also providing a safe place to hang out with friends and make new ones.
"They are not friends anymore, they are like brothers to me now," he said.