By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – Aspiring to become the first in their family to graduate college, a group of area high school students took a giant leap toward that outcome in a celebration May 27.
“I’m excited to get to see what’s different in college,” Green Bay East High School graduate Luis Gaytán said. “It’s going to be a whole new chapter in my life.”
CollegeReady’s NEW Scholars College Readiness Program, a Green Bay nonprofit that provides financial and academic support to college-bound students, hosted a signing day for its graduates to sign letters of acceptance to attend their chosen college or university.
“Our graduating NEW Scholars set their sights on earning a college degree way back in middle school,” CollegeReady’s Executive Director Brent Roubal said. “In fact, many of them have been in the program since the sixth grade.”
Roubal said according to data from the Department of Public Instruction, only 40% of economically-disadvantaged students in Wisconsin high schools will pursue post-secondary education.
By contrast, he said, 95% of graduating NEW Scholars – nearly 20 students – will attend college after this school year.
“We are proud of their drive and determination to become the first person in their family to attend college,” Roubal said.
Interim Superintendent Vicki Bayer said the Green Bay school district is fortunate to have CollegeReady as a community partner.
“CollegeReady’s efforts to break down barriers, especially financial barriers, open doors for our students that they may not have otherwise considered,” Bayer said.
Available to students within the Green Bay district, Roubal said the NEW Scholars program was established to help underserved youth become the first person in their family to graduate from college.
“I’m proud of applying for colleges and scholarships this school year,” Preble High School graduate Jennifer De Jesus Reyes, who will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) this fall to study elementary education, said. “It was something I had been looking forward to since I joined NEW Scholars when I was young. I always had the idea of going to college, and now that it’s finally coming up, I feel excited.”
Wide-range of intents
Students have been accepted at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB), Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), St. Norbert College (SNC), UWM, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Dominican University, as well as other Wisconsin colleges and universities – majoring in everything from business and education to nursing and welding.
UWGB Chancellor Michael Alexander said the university is proud to be recognized as the only First Generation Forward institution in the UW-System.
“We are fundamentally about access to education and providing the support to help students reach their educational goals and become the future leaders of our region,” Alexander said.
Dr. Colleen Simpson, NWTC vice president of student services, said providing tools and confidence is crucial for first-generation students.
“Organizations like CollegeReady are fundamental in that process,” Simpson said. “As a long-standing partner of CollegeReady, we will continue to make college possible for all learners. Together, we will carry on our commitment to support first-generation students.”
Corday Goddard, assistant vice president for student affairs at SNC, said the college, which is made up of 24% first generation students, is thrilled to welcome the recent NEW Scholar graduates to its student body.
“We’re proud of all they’ve achieved and overcome so far, and we’re looking forward to supporting them as they embark on a new and exciting journey this fall,” Goddard said.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic happening in their sophomore year, the recent NEW Scholar graduates experienced unprecedented hurdles.
“By refusing to give up on their goal of earning a college degree, our NEW Scholars pushed through the challenges they encountered during the pandemic, and have set themselves up for success in college next year,” Roubal said.
She said NEW Scholars breaks down barriers to higher education that exist for low-income and first-generation students through academic support, college prep, parent workshops and service learning, and so much more.
Participants earn up to a $5,000 scholarship toward their college expenses.
“Ninety-five percent of our graduating NEW Scholars will receive at least one college scholarship, and many will receive additional financial aid, which significantly lightens the financial burden on our students and their parents,” Roubal said.
CollegeReady, previously known as Scholarships, Inc., has provided support to Northeast Wisconsin students since 1962 – awarding more than $12 million in scholarships to thousands of local students.
“My advice to future college-bound students would be – don’t give up on yourself,” Preble graduate Eduardo Vera Bautista, who will attend St. Norbert College to study accounting in the fall, said. “If you have big dreams and want to do big things, as my dad says, ‘Potential is great, but no potential is great without hard work put into it.’”
For more information, visit CollegeReadyWI.org.