Edwards CMC students still benefit from War on Poverty education bill
Earlier this spring, Enews ran a short series of articles profiling students who have benefited from TRIO’s Upward Bound and Student Support Services programs at different Colorado Mountain College locations. This final profile features twins Cindy and Gemma Mendoza and Nereyda Blanco, three students who took part in TRIO programs at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards.
Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson announced his War on Poverty, at least one front has demonstrated clear victories in improving economic success. And that front is higher education.
According to a Pew Research Center study released in February, college-educated workers are less likely to be unemployed and can expect to earn significantly more each year than their peers with high school diplomas alone. As this income gap grows, more than doubling since the passage of Johnson’s anti-poverty bill, higher education has become a critical weapon in the fight for economic opportunity.
Fortunately, three historic educational bills passed by the Johnson administration, which created what are now known as the TRIO programs, are still opening doors for students locally and nationwide. At five of its campuses, Colorado Mountain College is helping students via either TRIO’s Student Support Services or Upward Bound programs.
Thanks to an Upward Bound grant, Colorado Mountain College’s campus in Edwards has been empowering disadvantaged high school students to finish school and succeed in college since 2007. And through Student Support Services grants, starting in 2010, the campus has been able to extend the dream of equal opportunity in education to students attending college.
Upward Bound helps high school students graduate, reach for college admittance
Debi Martinez-Brun, Colorado Mountain College’s Upward Bound director in Eagle County, reports that 80 percent of students in the program administered by CMC enroll in college. The statistic is particularly impressive because Upward Bound students are often identified as at high risk for dropping out of high school.
Extra guidance is especially important to students who are the first in their families to consider attending college. Twin sisters Gemma and Cynthia Mendoza knew they wanted to pursue higher education, but they didn’t know where to begin. Upward Bound helped to lead the way.
“I didn’t have an advocate to help me check my work and fill out applications,” said Gemma. “Without Upward Bound, who could I have turned to?”
The Mendoza sisters both said that visiting college campuses with Upward Bound during high school helped them see what college might be like. Plus, taking concurrent enrollment classes strengthened their belief that they could complete college coursework – and reduced the number of credit hours they had to pay for.
Gemma and Cynthia are both on track to graduate in May of 2015 from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Gemma will earn a bachelor’s degree in economics with a minor in business, and hopes to work in corporate or government finance. She recently served on a panel to introduce potential first-generation students to the college experience at CU. “I was happy to participate, because I remember being exactly in their shoes,” she said.
Cynthia plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in integrated physiology and continue into either nurses’ training or physician assistant school. She currently works for CU’s pre-collegiate development program. “There aren’t that many programs out there for first-generation students,” she said. “Upward Bound made an impact on me, and I want to be able to make that impact on others.”
SSS program offers extra support for extraordinary students like Nereyda Blanco
Nereyda Blanco knew that she would have to fund her college aspirations herself, so she took a full-time job at Starbucks and squeezed in CMC classes around her work schedule. Attending part-time, she earned her associate degree with an emphasis in business, but what she really wanted was a four-year degree.
A friend suggested she contact Heather O’Malley, coordinator of Student Support Services at CMC in Edwards. With O’Malley’s assistance, Blanco was awarded a HERO scholarship and was able to cut back to half time at work. She also took advantage of the SSS program’s tutoring and financial seminars.
“Initially, my family was surprised that I wanted to pursue further education, because I had a job,” said Blanco. “But now, they’re very proud, and they’re encouraging my younger sister to do the same thing.”
A hand up, not a hand out, helps students reach, exceed their goals
Blanco earned her Bachelor of Science in business administration from CMC in 2013 and now works full-time for an attorney. “Watching a case from when it opens to when it closes, and being part of that process, is exciting,” she said. Next, she hopes to pursue certification as a paralegal and perhaps even apply to law school.
As President Johnson envisioned all those years ago, giving promising students a hand up delivers far-reaching benefits – not just to the potential college graduates, but to the communities they enrich.
To learn more about CMC’s TRIO programs in Eagle County, contact Upward Bound director Martinez-Brun at firstname.lastname@example.org or Student Support Services coordinator O’Malley at email@example.com.