It’s hard to imagine yourself in college — or get excited about it — if you’ve never seen it for yourself. And for K-12 students living in remote areas in rural Oregon, there’s another obstacle: getting to campus. That’s where Beaver Hangouts comes in.

Using video conferencing software, Beaver Hangouts brings campus into the classroom, giving elementary, middle and high school students a glimpse of what college life is really like. Each participating classroom is paired with a student coach from Oregon State who guides them through a curriculum designed to make college feel a little more real. Lesson plans include topics ranging from “a day in the life of a college student” to myths and fears, personal finance, what to expect during your first year and virtual campus tours.

Beaver Hangouts is also helping middle school students envision themselves in STEM careers. Through a partnership with the College of Engineering and the Society for Women Engineers, Beaver Hangouts developed an after-school program that introduces young people to various engineering majors. Dominique Brooks, precollege programs coordinator at Oregon State, says she plans to expand the program, using the engineering course as a blueprint for similar partnerships with other colleges on campus.

Brooks adds that one of her favorite things about Beaver Hangouts — in addition to opening doors to higher education for Oregon youth — is watching her coaches grow. Emi Anderson, a third-year Beaver Hangouts coach, has discovered how much her classes value having a mentor.

“Most of the students we work with do not have someone in their life who can give them accurate information about higher education,” she says. “We are able to teach them about the different forms of higher education and the steps you need to take to get there.”

Anderson adds that the relationship she builds with each class is what keeps her coming back every year.

“When my students take the information they learned in our sessions and apply it to their lives, it’s heartwarming,” she says. “It’s reassurance that they are taking everything in.”

While Beaver Hangouts has already made a difference in Oregon communities, there are many exciting expansion plans in the works. Brooks says she is pursuing a plan to reach international schools through Skype in the classroom, and is also interested in franchising the Beaver Hangouts program so other institutions can incorporate it into their outreach efforts.

In the meantime, Beaver Hangouts will continue to reach more schools, encouraging students to consider that the college experience they’ve been craving might just be within reach.