Diversity flows throughU program’s pipeline

by Sarah McKenzie

Poetry clippings, LL Cool J posters and stuffed animals adorn Natosha Stewart’s bedroom, but a poster of Martin Luther King Jr. serves as the centerpiece.
The photograph depicts King with a small child on his lap and the text of his “I Have a Dream” speech in the foreground — a constant reminder that lofty goals can be accomplished. Stewart, a senior at Central High School in St. Paul, said she has a few ambitions of her own, due in large part to her affiliation with a program coordinated through the University.
She is one of more than 1,400 students participating in the Minority Encouragement Program based in St. Paul junior and senior high schools.
Eric Moore, coordinator of the 8-year-old University program, plans to start the “pipeline program” in the Minneapolis schools next year. The initiative tracks students in the seventh grade all the way to their college graduations.
“It’s pretty inspirational to start out in junior high,” said Stewart, whose first taste of the program was as a student at Ramsey Junior High. Program staff “are always open and willing to help out with college applications, essays, whatever it may be,” she added.
Several companies and outreach groups sponsor the college prep program, including IBM, 3M and US West. Other colleges and universities coordinate programs throughout the state. Moore said funding for the St. Paul initiative totals more than $400,000.
Stewart, whose interests vary from writing poetry to studying chemistry, will attend the University next fall as a pre-med student. As a participant in the program, her tuition and books will be paid for.
In order to receive the scholarship, students must maintain a grade point average of at least 2.5. They also must visit college academic advisers and learning resource centers regularly.
Nancy Barcelo, associate vice president for Minority Affairs, visited with St. Paul educators and students last year to gauge the program’s successfulness. “Phenomenal” is the word she uses to sum up the experience.
“We’ve been very pleased with the results,” Barcelo said. She noted that 80 percent of the St. Paul students active in the program end up attending the University.
Barcelo called the program “a model for future endeavors.” Currently, 176 students who began the initiative as seventh graders are enrolled at the University.
In fact, Director of Admissions Wayne Sigler said that over the past five years, the number of minorities applying to the University has risen substantially.
Last year, the number of minority applicants rose 8 percent. Since 1992, the number of applicants has increased by 57 percent.
Although the program has been in place for some time, Stewart’s mother, Janice Brown, said her daughter is very fortunate.
“I wish that there were those types of programs when I was about her age,” Brown said. “I had her at a very early age, and there was no program that could really help a teen in my situation.”
Although the program offers a number of benefits, including scholarships and mentorship opportunities, groups participants said that it is not simply a free ticket to college.
Stewart said she would advise seventh graders starting out to keep up with the work and “be thankful.” Other participants agree.
For College of Liberal Arts freshman Jesse Amacher, involvement in the encouragement program helped him prepare for an ambitious endeavor he otherwise wouldn’t have dreamed of doing. Next year, he is headed to Japan in a University study abroad program.
“I’m fascinated by learning the language,” Amacher said. The program “is helping me out financially with travel expenses and planning of the trip.”
Amacher, also the Tae Kwon Do champion in Minnesota and Wisconsin, plans to promote the program to junior high kids this week at a forum at St. Thomas.
“I don’t think I would have gone to college without the program,” Amacher said. “Now it’s time to give back to the younger students.”