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September 3, 1999

UW-RF Receives Grants for 1st-Generation Students

Two federal grants worth nearly $400,000 have been awarded to UW-River Falls to help it to attract economically disadvantaged students to attend the University and to prepare economically disadvantaged UW-RF students for graduate school.

The two grants, Upward Bound and the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, are part of the federal TRIO suite of grants for disadvantaged students. They will go into effect on Oct. 1, with UW-RF currently conducting a nationwide search to hire coordinators for the two programs.

Each of the grants is renewable for four years.

UW-River Falls, which began its 125th academic year on Sept. 2, enrolls 5,850 students and is located in west-central Wisconsin and is within the metropolitan area of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.

Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau said he was pleased that the University received the two grants, which will help it to continue its tradition of providing access to public higher education.

"Our University is a unique point of opportunity for receiving a higher education for many of our students," Thibodeau said.

"Even today 60 percent of our students are the first in their family to attend a University-that is well above the national average of 40 percent for colleges. Furthermore, nearly 80 percent of our students must receive some form of financial aide, whether through grants or loans, to pay for their education.

"These two programs will help to our open doors even wider for those potential or enrolled students who are the first in their family to attend college or to further their higher education.

"We like to think of ourselves as a welcoming University that provides real opportunities to develop human potential; these grants will help us to build on that tradition," Thibodeau said.

Dean Karen Viechnicki of the UW-RF College of Education & Graduate Studies submitted the Upward Bound proposal based on her experiences with it at another university.

According to Viechnicki, the new director will target recruiting 50 high school students from Arlington High School in St. Paul. "My hope is there's a mix of students based on socio-economic factors and potentially first-generation college students," Viechnicki said.

The UW-RF program will launch with Arlington teachers and counselors in January to recruit sophomores who can be included for three years.

"We hope the program will help those students to build good study habits and to dream dreams about attending a university, and to have their parents push the students to save some money toward college," Viechnicki said.

During the program, the students will regularly visit the campus on Saturdays during the academic year to participate in enhancement courses in such areas as communications, speech, writing and the sciences; college information sessions, tutoring, and recreational activities. They will also participate in a six-week residential experience on campus during the summer.

"This will afford an opportunity for students who may not have ever thought about going to a college or university to experience a campus so they can in fact make it a reality. We know that for some students, the best way to get them into college is to get them onto a college campus," Viechnicki said.

Viechnicki noted the program will be a victory regardless of where the students finally enroll.

The McNair program will bring $190,000 to UW-RF, according to Professor Philip George, who coordinate's the University's Academic Success Center.

George said the program will target enrolled UW-RF sophomores to encourage and prepare them for graduate school.

"This is designed to create an experience and develop an interest for those who think that achieving a bachelor's degree is an almost unreachable goal," George said. He explained, "First-generation, low-income students probably have no role models or concept of what it means to have a doctoral degree."

He noted that in some cases, the students will be coming from families that won't encourage pursuit of an advanced degree because they believe a bachelor's degree is adequate.

The McNair program will increase the understanding of students of the new avenues a graduate degree will represent as well as the rigors involved in post-graduate study.

According to George, there are many graduate programs that are seeking talented students to prepare them for careers in research or in university education. From a higher education standpoint, he noted that nearly one-third of all college professors are expected to retire in the next decade, opening up faculty teaching positions.

The McNain program will launch at UW-RF next January with a competitive process similar to achieving a scholarship, and selecting students by the end of the spring semester. Individually, the selection will carry a value of about $6,000 for each student.

Those selected will participate in a summer research project either on campus or in a corporate setting and receive a $3,200 stipend for the effort, along with funding for their tuition, room and board. Working with a faculty member, those students will then prepare a scholarly research paper and be provided financial assistance to attend a conference to present their work. They also will be given the chance to teach under faculty direction at UW-RF.

Other benefits will be preparation sessions on how to apply for and to interview at graduate programs, as well as assistance in traveling to graduate schools to seek admission.

Faculty members who mentor the students will gain by having a research assistant in addition to some supplies and equipment funding.

George noted the two new grant programs fit in well with another TRIO program at UW-RF that is entering its seventh year. That Student Support Services federal grant provides $200,000 each year for advising and tutoring to first-generation, low-income UW-RF students.

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