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Blugold Beginnings program receives state diversity award

November 14, 2013
Blugold Beginnings staff members, back row, from left: Katie Gorell, Josh Nesja, Jodi Thesing-Ritter, Jacqueline Bonneville; front row, from left: Shannon Waterhouse, Kristi Herbenson, Lissa Martinez Greer.

EAU CLAIRE — The Blugold Beginnings program at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire recently received the Ann Lydecker Educational Diversity Award from the Wisconsin State Council on Affirmative Action.

The Blugold Beginnings program seeks to educate and inspire students, especially underrepresented, low-income or first-generation students, to believe that a postsecondary education is important, attainable and available at UW-Eau Claire and other institutions.

The Lydecker Award recognizes the work of the Blugold Beginnings staff and hundreds of UW-Eau Claire students who provide mentoring and tutoring to students in area schools.

"The Blugold Beginnings staff has worked diligently over the past five years to build this outstanding program from the ground up, so this award is a way to honor their outstanding efforts," said Jodi Thesing-Ritter, associate dean of students at UW-Eau Claire.

Blugold Beginnings partners with 40 local schools to provide a comprehensive college connection for fifth-graders through graduating seniors.

"These college access efforts have resulted in strong cohorts of extremely talented underrepresented students matriculating at colleges in Wisconsin," said Katie Gorell, the Linked Learning Community program coordinator for Blugold Beginnings. "We have taken an innovative and evidence-based approach to holistic student retention which has helped us better serve students who choose to attend UW-Eau Claire through graduation. These students will go on to make strong citizens in our communities."

The program also includes Fifth-Grade Campus Tour Days, which connect local and outreach elementary schools to the UW-Eau Claire campus and introduce them to the idea of college. For high school students, monthly events such as football games, residence hall activities and other college life activities are offered to help students become connected to UW-Eau Claire.

Blugold Beginnings also works with its College Access Network partners at UW-Stout, Chippewa Valley Technical College, Wisconsin Educational Opportunity Program, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Club and YMCA, which have been critical to the program's success.

"This award would not be possible without the support of our partners in the Chippewa Valley who have committed to making communitywide change and have developed a college-going culture in our region," Gorell said. "Blugold Beginnings is especially grateful to the 40 schools who partner with us to provide programming to more than 3,000 students."

The program receives funding and support from the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, Great Lakes Higher Education Corp., Betsy Kell, UW System Growth Agenda, the College Access Grant and AmeriCorps.

In addition, students, faculty and staff have volunteered thousands of hours in mentorship and educational support. Blugold Beginnings hires current UW-Eau Claire students as mentors for students in elementary through high school. The mentors develop relationships with students, act as role models and provide college knowledge to mentees.

"In a perfect world this approach would be the standard in Wisconsin," Thesing-Ritter said. "This important work is paying off with increased access to postsecondary education for children in the Chippewa Valley."



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