Six Pendleton natives on their first winter break as college students were back at school Wednesday.

The former Pendleton High School students returned to their alma mater to speak on a panel about their initial impressions of college life and the challenges they face.

Throughout their speeches, there was one theme that grew out of the advice the alumni gave to their former peers: start thinking about finances now.

“As far as financial aid goes, you should do that. A lot,” deadpanned Riley Kendrick, a first-year student at Oregon State University studying chemical engineering.

Panelist Shyla Davison said she originally intended to go to a four-year university but ultimately committed to Blue Mountain Community College, which she thought was more financially viable.

Davison decided against a four-year institution because she wanted to avoid debt. She said going to BMCC has allowed her to earn income while being a full-time student.

In addition to holding down a job and living independently, the financial aid Davison gets through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid covers the cost of college, allowing her to bank the money she received from 10 scholarships she was awarded for the four-year university she’ll eventually transfer to, where she plans to study paleontology.

Besides scholarships, the panelists urged kids to seek out ASPIRE, a program that assists students considering college and professional opportunities, and to enroll in dual credit courses, which can give students a head start in obtaining college credits and better prepare them for the rigors of a

university curriculum.

The panel was comprised of students from OSU, BMCC, the Oregon Institute of Technology and Eastern Oregon University.

Debbie McBee, the vice chair of the Pendleton School Board and an ASPIRE volunteer, said the panel usually features students from private and out-of-state colleges in addition to students from state schools to offer the audience a variety of experiences.

While Pendleton High School graduates attending out-of-state schools participated in the afternoon edition of the panel, McBee said the students from private universities won’t start their winter break until next week, which coincides with the beginning of the district’s winter break.

Besides offering financial advice, the panel also gave timeless college admonishments to their audience, including the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people, managing your time well and making new friends.

“If you don’t talk with somebody,” OSU student Gerry Chavez said, “you’ll be watching Netflix by yourself the whole year.”

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

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