It's hard to believe, but the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) program is already 13 years old.
This is a busy time for Jacqueline DeWalt, PEOPLE program executive director, as school is ending and the summer programs are kicking into gear. The PEOPLE program and its students have achieved many successes both on and off campus over the past 13 years — academically, socially, culturally, and professionally — and that is something DeWalt is proud of.
“I’m from inner-city Milwaukee. I know that there are many students both urban and rural that are getting different levels of service and education across the state,” DeWalt says. “I just love being able to identify some of those students [to] try to level the playing field to equalize the educational opportunities and experiences that they’ve been exposed to, and helping them to reach their greatest potential. But, even before that, to understand that every student has a gift or talent. Everybody has something to offer this world. To be able to work with students to help them identify their gift and their talent and to help them match that up with a college major or career option ... I just love seeing people grow over time. I think it’s our responsibility. Everybody has a calling and everybody has a passion — mine is to work with youth and to make people understand that everybody has something to offer. Ultimately, it will help that student; but it will also help the community and help build the state.”
The UW-Madison PEOPLE program, housed within the University of Wisconsin-Madison division of the vice provost and chief diversity officer, is the one of the most comprehensive talent-development diversity scholarship pipelines for under-represented, economically disadvantaged, and first-generation students in the nation. As the head of the PEOPLE Program, DeWalt oversees year-round academic enrichment, summer residential workshops, cultural and group activities in higher education, community outreach, and public school partnerships. She supervises a team of program managers who work with college, high school, and middle school students. PEOPLE has an infrastructure that works in partnership with all of the schools and colleges on campus that provides early exposure to potential college majors and career options, prepares students for entry into and completion of an undergraduate degree. The result of this is a highly educated workforce that is truly reflective of the diversity that exists within the United States of America.
DeWalt is exciting about two very new things going on with the PEOPLE program. This year PEOPLE is working with the UW-Madison Department of Surgery in a brand-new partnership.
“A small group of students will get to meet the surgeons and be mentored by them and have an opportunity to observe some of the surgeries from the galleries,” she says. “They will develop a pipeline that feeds students into surgical careers — so that’s exciting.”
The other great new thing with PEOPLE is a big USDA grant that they just received. “PEOPLE is part of this grant as an educational outreach component… in our high school summer science sequence, we’ll focus on urban agriculture. We will be working with Will Allen out of Growing Power in Milwaukee,” DeWalt says. “We started an urban agriculture high school training sequence. It’s been amazing.”
What started in 1999 with about 66 students high school students from Milwaukee, has exploded to 1350 students sixth grade and up in a program that reaches throughout the state. “We have graduated students from every undergraduate school on campus,” DeWalt says. “It’s now a three-layered partnership. First, between the university through the PEOPLE program with the parents, schools, and community members. Those relationships have been solidified over time in some very viable ways. Secondly, it’s been a partnership with the schools and colleges and I think that’s where we’ve seen a lot of growth because, fundamentally, we are trying to diversify all of the schools and colleges on campus. In other words, students are not going to aspire to be something they’ve never seen and don’t know what it is. Our job is to plant the seeds and give them the exposure to the wide range of options that are available to them at the university through the various schools and colleges and then working with the various schools and colleges to give them a learning experience and connect them with people in those fields.
“Thirdly, it has to do with partnering with corporations and foundations. AT&T has been a long-time donor. CUNA [Mutual], American Family [Insurance]… a lot of local corporations have been supporting us and now we are moving more towards entrepreneurship,” she adds. “Just working with Great Lakes Higher Education to improve the education of Wisconsin students, we’ve been doing a lot more work with the families.”
It’s the power of collaboration that has made the PEOPLE program so strong over its 13 years.
“Years back, we used to meet with MMSD [Madison Metropolitan School District], the Urban League, the Boys and Girls Club, Centro Hispano, and AVID/TOPS on a regular basis….Well, we’ve pulled that group back together and are trying to figure out how we can help with the achievement gap,” DeWalt says. “How can we all come into greater alignment and share best practices because only so many students can get into the PEOPLE program? We want to figure out ways that we can work together and share more information. We’re having a lot of conversations right now. There are a lot of great community projects going on.”
DeWalt says that people often overlook the fact that the PEOPLE program students do an incredible amount of work in the community as they matriculate.
“Many times we focus on what is given to the students of the PEOPLE program; nobody talks about what the students give back to the campus and the community,” DeWalt says. “The thing that is driving us is getting the kids into the university and getting a degree, but there’s a lot of stuff that happens in between there — and we call it ‘becoming a true badger.’ That stuff that happens in between is guided by what we call “The Wisconsin Experience.”
The Wisconsin Experience, DeWalt says, is a collection of best practices that are known to develop leaders. “For example, we try to make sure that our students are involved in first-year interest groups, that they are involved in undergraduate research, they are involved in study abroad, community service, service learning, and leadership experiences,” she says. “So, that’s in addition to getting the grades in their classes to get their degree.
“At the end of the day, by being exposed to all of these other resources and opportunities it really holistically develops the students as they graduate,” she adds. “These students are actually building and growing the university and building and growing communities. The fundamental philosophy that drives us is ‘lifting as you climb.’ To much who is given; much is expected. Our students have been stepping up to the plate on that and we’re always looking for new and better ways for them to do that.”
Once Madison students started to get into UW-Madison, it really started to lift the hopes and the standards of other local students here in Madison and beyond. “Even though we’re bringing students directly into the program through the PEOPLE program, I also think that their presence increases the number of non-PEOPLE students who may want to come here,” DeWalt says. “That’s something that people might not normally see.
“Originally when the PEOPLE program was developed, the concept was that it would be a model that could be replicated. Actually, last year we really started shifting into that mode,” DeWalt adds. “We have two replication projects going on and both focus on the elementary programs. Through Great Lakes Higher Education, we’re replicating the elementary program.
Thanks to a $70,000 grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation, Cardinal Stritch will be home to the Stritch Center for Opportunities and Promise in Education (SCOPE) Prep Program. That pre-college program will be modeled after the PEOPLE Prep Program (PPP) to engage students in college bound activities.
“They are working with a low-income housing project called Green Tree Teutonia housing development in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” DeWalt says. “This year, we’re also working with Edgewood College here in Madison and they are replicating it focusing on the Wexford Ridge area out of the Lussier Center. “
In addition to those two replication projects, they also have a GEAR-UP grant through the Milwaukee public school system. “They are working with 2,300 sixth and seventh-graders. They are going to work with them all the way through the completion of high school,” DeWalt says. “So, what the PEOPLE program is doing is manifesting the Wisconsin Idea by opening up the doors of these institutions to these 2,300 students.”
UW-Madison PEOPLE Program was recently awarded the Great Lakes community investment grant to improve upon the PEOPLE program. This grant will help them to offer additional training for both students and parents on college admission and financing. Students will also receive intensive summer training on taking standardized tests, succeeding in advanced-placement high school classes, and the procedures used laboratory, research, and fieldwork instruction.
“A great emphasis is placed on ACT, for sure, because that is a national issue,” DeWalt says. “We’re going to focus on our rising 10th graders more and we’re going to make it mandatory that all of our 11th graders will have taken the ACT at least twice by the end of the 11th grade.”
The University of Wisconsin -Madison is a top-tier research institution that offers hundreds of majors at the undergraduate degree level. Their goal is to diversify as many of these fields of study as possible and the PEOPLE program represents an opportunity for the university and communities across the state.
“We are always evolving. There’s never been a year where the PEOPLE program hasn’t changed in some way because we survey everything and we get feedback from our instructors, parents, students, and our partners,” DeWalt says. “We’re always open to change and improve. That’s just how we are. We are ever-evolving and we’re moving with the changing times and needs of the community and the university. We’re just trying to connect the dots and continue to move the Wisconsin kids forward.”