When Grace Layton arrived at the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis two years ago, she experienced what she called “culture shock.” She had no idea what college would be like — from courses to dorm life to late night cafeteria food.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do at all,” Layton said. “I didn’t know what was happening.”

Her bewildering experience served as motivation for Layton, who spent the last four days at the OSU-Cascades campus in Bend, working as a counselor for the university’s Summer Academy for high school students.

From Tuesday through Friday, Summer Academy gave 46 high school students from around the West Coast a taste of the college experience. They slept in dorms, explored Bend and its surroundings and took courses.

It was the kind of introduction to college that Layton said she would have enjoyed.

“For these kids, where they have this camp, they can experience college a bit in this monitored fashion, so they’re not just dumped into something they don’t understand,” she said.

OSU-Cascades leaders say introducing teenagers to college life was one of the main purposes of Summer Academy, along with piquing the students’ interest in certain subjects the college offers.

“It’s giving them that whole package of eating on campus, socializing on campus, having activities, being a part of the classroom experience and then sleeping overnight,” said Nathan Moses, the OSU-Cascades administrator who led Summer Academy. “This is a great, fun and safe way to get that college experience.”

Students were allowed to choose from one of three courses that were held each morning: A science, technology, engineering and math class; an art and media technology class; or a class dubbed Write for the Web, which taught them how to write in an online-focused world, using social media, memes and more. Having students interact with university professors helped distinguish Summer Academy from other summer camps, OSU-Cascades spokesperson Christine Coffin said.

“It’s not camp counselors; it’s the real faculty, so they get to see how a college-level faculty member teaches,” she said.

In the afternoon, students had a variety of activities to choose from, including outdoor adventures like hiking Tumalo Falls and floating on the Deschutes River, or exploring Bend. Moses said these off-campus events were indicative of the OSU-Cascades experience, because the college doesn’t have a student life center or recreational building.

Out of the 46 high school students who stayed at OSU-Cascades this week, about half were from Central Oregon, Moses said. The rest came from the Willamette Valley, Washington or California, with one student traveling as far as Virginia to attend Summer Academy — although her family is moving to Bend, Coffin said.

Families could choose between a $499 option, where students were only on campus during the day, or the $650 overnight option — which the majority of students chose, Moses said.

Six students, all from Culver and Gilchrist high schools, attended the overnight program for free this week with funding from the federal GEAR UP program — that’s an acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. It provides grants to help low-income students succeed in higher education. In the afternoon, while other students ventured off-campus, the six GEAR UP students participated in college prep courses.

One of those students was Samantha Spurlock, an incoming sophomore at Gilchrist High who chose the writing course. On Wednesday, she said she was enjoying her OSU-Cascades experience so far, and the college-age counselors quickly helped her adjust to dorm life.

“I was kind of nervous, but the college kids were like, ‘Hey, you’re fine,’ and I was like, ‘Cool,’” Samantha, 15, said. “So they were pretty helpful.”

OSU-Cascades instructor Jenna Goldsmith, who taught the web writing course, said she hoped students in Summer Academy learned that earning a college degree wasn’t a far-fetched goal.

“I think being able to see what’s possible is really important,” she said. “You can go to college. It’s not as intimidating as it may seem. The instructors are approachable, and everybody’s in the same boat.”

Yong Bakos, one of the OSU-Cascades instructors who helped lead the STEM course, said he attended a similar camp as a high schooler at Northwestern University near Chicago. He said the experience was so positive that he eventually attended Northwestern, and hoped the students on OSU-Cascades’ campus had a similarly exciting week.

“I know from first-hand experience what a fun and impactful experience it can be to spend a week on a college campus,” Bakos said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for students who are exploring what to do with their life, trying to find their calling, to maybe get a taste of a career that could be in their future.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com