The future of the state of Wisconsin was on display at the UW-Madison PEOPLE Program’s 12th annual Recognition Banquet at the Madison Marriott West Aug. 3. The future looks very promising.
The annual recognition banquet was held for the 141 high school seniors in one of the most successful long-term diversity pipelines to higher education in the nation. The program showcased the talents, accomplishments, and educational dreams of the students who have just completed their final summer of year-round training for college — including ACT testing and six weeks living in University Housing.
“Our program started in 1999 with 66 high school students in Milwaukee,” PEOPLE Program Executive Director Jacqueline DeWalt told the crowd. “Since then, we have served over 1,300 students every year. The outcomes are among the highest in the state of Wisconsin and, indeed, the nation. We have a 100 percent high school graduation rate where we have graduated ovefr 1,200 students. Ninety-six percent of our students enroll in higher education.”
At the event, there were numerous performances by the students including beautiful piano by pianists Yiangtxias Thao of Madison La Follette High School and Tashi Atruktsang of Madison West High School. There was a Native American Cultural Dance by Cody Carley of Hayward High and Florence Powless of Ashland High. John Gamble of Walden III High School in Racine performed “Suite No. 1 Prelude in G Major” by Johann Sebastian Bach on the cello.
“This is an incredible celebration of who we are and where we are trying to go,” said Damon Williams, UW-Madison vice provost and chief diversity officer, who heads the division that houses the PEOPLE program. “There is not one institute in the nation who are doing things in terms of access, student success, and achievement that are more dynamic, more innovative, and more broad, and more connected in partnership than what we are celebrating here today.”
Student Reflections were given by Clar Huerta of Waukesha North High School, Kelly Holmes of Bayfield High School, David Pontes of Madison West, and Lamesha Washington and Jacqueline Ferrer of Milwaukee Ronald Reagan High School.
Vince Sweeney, vice chancellor for University Relations of the UW-Madison, spoke on behalf of UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward.
“In my opinion, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a better institution offering a better education because of the accomplishments of the PEOPLE program,” Sweeney said. “In my opinion, those students who went through the PEOPLE program and subsequently attended the UW-Madison have a significantly better and more enriching educational experience at UW-Madison because of the PEOPLE program.”
PEOPLE students who complete high school and successfully gain admission to UW-Madison are bridged into the university through a pre-freshman-year summer program designed to earn initial college credits and further accelerate their college success. Students who enroll at UW-Madison receive a four-year tuition scholarship along with college advising and leadership support through completion of their undergraduate degree, including going on to graduate school or entry into the workforce.
The keynote speaker of the banquet was Amy Kerwin, chief educational opportunities officer for Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation. She said that Great Lakes has been part of the higher education landscape since the 1960s.
“Our job is to help people to overcome barriers that prevent them from obtaining an education beyond high school,” Kerwin says. “An obvious barrier is the inability to pay for college. To address this barrier, Great Lakes works with both the federal government and individual colleges to get financial aid — both in the terms of grants and student loans — into the hands of students and families who need it to help them pay for college.”
Student loan debt is currently at an all-time high, Kerwin continued. The average student loan debt in 2011 was $27,000. “For far too many students, financial aid is not a barrier to college, because for these students, college is not even an option,” Kerwin said. “It’s just not part of their plan. Equally troubling, however, are those students who take the steps to get to college but arrive on campus not prepared to succeed whether it be academically or socially.
“We [at Great Lakes] believe that higher education can change lives for the better,” she added, “so we work to increase access and success for students of all backgrounds. To this end, over the last 40 years Great Lakes has provided more than $70 million in funding in support of college access and success programs.”
Earlier this spring, PEOPLE was awarded a $300,000 grant to increase the scope of academic preparedness for disadvantaged students seeking post-secondary education. Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation announced its 2012 Wisconsin Educational Growth Grant recipients following a competitive application process. In addition to the high school-focused grant, PEOPLE also has a partnership with Great Lakes to replicate the success of its elementary program, PEOPLE Prep, at other institutions of higher education across the state.
“We were very impressed with how quickly they forged such strong relationships with two community learning centers — the center at Northport and Packers — in a relatively short time,” she said. “Great Lakes is thrilled to have been able to assist in bringing the successful program to two additional community centers in Wisconsin and to help more students learn about the option of going to college. The reality, however, is that Great Lakes played a very small role in this process. We provide the funding. [People Executive Director] Jackie DeWalt and her team provide the best practices and the passion that made it possible.”