Aspirations Tours at the Museum

A First-Hand Look at the College Experience For Young Students

Through Colby College’s Maine Aspirations program, volunteers provide elementary, middle, and high school students with an early look at the college experience. Sarah Rossien ’19, Linde Family Foundation Educational Intern, discusses the role of the Museum in this initiative.


Former United States senator George Mitchell grew up in Waterville, Maine, as the son of immigrants. Although his parents were poor, they used scholarships and financial aid to ensure that all of their children attended college. Mitchell has said that he “owes everything to [his] parents and their devotion and drive to see to it that their children had the education which led to opportunities that they never were able to have.” However, not all children in Maine are fortunate enough to have parents who encourage college attendance. In 2013, the Maine Department of Education and the Mitchell Institute reported that only 62.1 percent of Maine public high-school graduates enrolled directly into college. While this number has increased over the past decade, Maine is still in the bottom tenth percentile in the country. Some possible barriers to college enrollment include unfamiliarity with what college entails, the college application process, and the way to pay for it, and lack of knowledge about the many resources that are available on college campuses to support learning and later job acquisition.

From the Mitchell Institute, a figure representing college enrollment rates from 2006 to 2013

With the introduction of Aspirations Tours, the Colby College Museum of Art has made an effort to decrease the real and perceived challenges to attending college. Aspirations Tours are campus tours targeted toward third- through ninth-grade students. The tours provide an overview of college life and answer questions regarding the application process, financial aid, majors and minors, campus resources, extracurricular activities, and living on campus. The tours give a general idea of college life that can be applied to any institution, not just Colby. Current Colby student docents conduct the tours, so visiting students get a firsthand perspective on what college life is actually like.

Dr. Jacquelynne S. Eccles, professor of psychology, education, and women’s studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, argues that adult ambitions take root during middle childhood and early adolescence:  “The years between six and fourteen . . . are a time of important developmental advances that establish children’s sense of identity. During these years, children make strides toward adulthood by becoming competent, independent, self-aware, and involved in the world beyond their families.”

That is why the Colby College Museum of Art has chosen third- through ninth-grade students as their audience for Aspirations Tours. It is during these grades that young people often begin to think about what their adult lives could be like. Aspirations Tours are meant to increase Maine’s college enrollment rates by exposing young students to a life they may have never considered.

School groups can come to the Colby College Museum of Art for a Museum tour and also choose two of the following: a studio workshop, a sketching activity in the galleries, and an Aspirations Tour. This variety of activities allows for multimodal learning; students look, listen, create, and explore. Over the course of the past two school years (2015–2017), the Colby College Museum of Art has given sixty-three Aspirations Tours to eight hundred and fifty students from seventeen different schools. Aspirations Tour leader and first-generation college student Emily Carter says, “Aspirations Tours help kids become acquainted with college in a way that doesn’t make it sound scary or intimidating. Often, first-generation college students don’t know where to start. I know I didn’t. These tours have the potential to change the minds of students who maybe never thought college would be right for them or accessible to them.”

Aspirations Tours at the Museum of Art offer unique opportunities for prospective students to better understand the college experience and engage in creative learning.

The goal of these tours is to get more Maine students thinking about college and to contribute to Colby College’s actions in revitalizing Waterville. The Museum sees approximately four thousand school visitors every year. Bringing in so many K–12 students creates a unique opportunity for the Museum to serve them in another way. The Aspirations Tours specifically target the children of Maine and are intended to attract more people from the Waterville and surrounding communities onto the Hill. The college is currently making efforts to get Colby students, faculty, and parents into downtown Waterville with the building of a new dorm and boutique hotel. The combination of the college’s work to bring Colby students into downtown Waterville and the Museum’s efforts to bring local students onto Colby’s campus will strengthen ties and build a brighter future for Central Maine.