As astronomer Charles Tolbert rotated the dome of the University of Virginia's McCormick Observatory, six pairs of eager eyes watched every move.
"I never saw anything like this before," said 11-year-old Adonis Hicks, who attends Timber Lane Elementary in Falls Church. "I might want to know more about the stars."
He and 39 other 11- to 15-year-old students from Fairfax County schools may not have seen any stars in yesterday's brightly lit skies but many were inspired to reach for them.
The 40 youths and eight parents visited the University of Virginia yesterday as part of a summer enrichment program cosponsored by the Fairfax County public schools in Area II (Annandale and Falls Church) and the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College.
The visit was designed to give them a taste of what college is like and encourage them to start thinking about their futures.
During two three-week sessions, elementary and junior high students from a variety of ethnic, economic and academic backgrounds attended workshops and lectures at NVCC in Annandale on a variety of subjects. They heard a former drug addict and a blind professor talk about how they overcame difficulties in their lives.
They wrote, produced and directed a mock television news show.
"The idea of the program is to get them excited about learning so that they will do better in school," said Barbara Holmes, provost of NVCC Annandale and a coordinator of the program.
"This is the age to get them. By the time they reach high school it's too late."
Donald Jones, assistant to the president of the University of Virginia, welcomed the young students.
"It is our desire as a partner in education," he said, "that this university awareness day will enhance minority and or underachieving students' access to higher education by supporting academic aspirations."
"It has been great," said Youjin Chong, 14, a student at Annandale High School, of yesterday's visit. "It's been my goal to go to U-Va. If I try to study harder, I might get in."
Chong said that before she toured the campus, commonly known as the Grounds, she thought she wanted to be an engineer. But after seeing the architecture school, she said she may rethink that decision.
Twelve-year-old Andrea Walker, who will be a seventh grader at Frost Intermediate School in the fall, wants to be a veterinarian and visited the nursing school yesterday.
She said the visit gave her a better appreciation of what nurses do.
Divided into groups of about six, students visited the schools in which they had expressed interest -- arts and sciences, engineering, education, nursing, commerce and architecture. They also toured the grounds and had lunch with football coach George Welsh.
For 15-year-old Mike Marshall, the highlight of the day came when Welsh told him that he was stronger than some of the university's football players.
"The coach said that some of the people there can't lift 240 pounds. I lift 240," he said proudly.
If there was one disappointment, it was that there were few college students around.
"I wish I had seen some of the football players," said 14-year-old Sadiqa Brown, who said she is planning a career in business or law.
Perhaps the biggest impression of the day was made by the stately buildings designed by Thomas Jefferson.
"Going to U-Va. is getting a piece of Thomas Jefferson," said Joanne Swartz, a 12-year-old student at Frost Intermediate School. "It makes you want to get a better education and do the best that you can do."