COLUMBIA, Mo. – Diamond Mack wants to be an engineer, and 4-H is helping her.

The St. Louis senior joined about 100 other high school students at the 4-H Youth Futures conference this summer at the University of Missouri. For 10 years the University of Missouri Extension program has made the dream of college a reality for hundreds of underserved and first-generation youth.

“It helped open my eyes,” Mack said. “I never thought I’d make it to college because in middle school my grades were C’s and D’s, but going through this Youth Futures program helped me jump from C’s and D’s to an A and B average, so it’s really good.”

Students spend a week living in MU dorms, learning how they should prepare to make it into college. Classes prep students for college entrance exams and expose them to what college life is like. They leave the conference with a plan that details the steps they need to take in the coming year to make college a reality for them.

“A lot of it is that these students might not live in a home with parents that went to college, so it’s not that they don’t want to help them but maybe that they don’t know how to help,” said Donna Garcia, University of Missouri Extension urban youth development specialist. “We take youth that may feel they don’t have a chance and let them know there are options, there are mentors.”

Robin Winn was one of those students.

She was the first in her family to receive a bachelor’s degree, will graduate with her Master’s degree in December and plans to go to law school. She now works to mentor the next generation of Youth Futures students.

“I’m just sharing my story with the kids and letting them know there is hope, and I am an example of what the program can do,” said Winn, a Youth Futures alum and MU Extension youth educator. “I still have a mentor who supports me in a lot of my educational decisions, career decisions and life decisions as well.”

Research shows that only 15 percent of students drop out of college because of academic failure, and most who leave do so due to personal financial or social problems. First-generation students are also two times as likely as students of a parent with a college degree to drop out of college before their second year.

Jesus Grijalva will be one of those first-generation college students. The Kansas City senior sees it as an opportunity to better himself and his family.

“My father my mother always wanted me to go to college, so they encouraged me to go to college, become somebody and have a great job,” Grijalva said. “Then when I’m older I can support my family and give them what I didn’t have.”

For more about this program, go to