Jukrao Oman gives her testimonial of going through the Be Your Best College Prep Academy during the program’s graduation Thursday night. Photos by Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com
Jukrao Oman gives her testimonial of going through the Be Your Best College Prep Academy during the program’s graduation Thursday night. Photos by Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Archived Story

Taking a step forward: Students graduate from Riverland’s Be Your Best

Published 10:24am Friday, August 1, 2014

Several members of the Austin community took a step toward college Thursday, thanks to a Riverland Community College program.

“We need to make sure everybody’s prepared for college,” Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) Chancellor Steven Rosenstone said.

Rosenstone and his wife, Dr. Maria Antonia Calvo, attended Riverland’s Be Your Best College Prep Academy graduation at the college Thursday evening, as did Minnesota Office of Higher Education representatives Director Larry Pogemiller and Communications Director Sandy Connolly

Be Your Best, which started in 2007, is a free summer program designed to help students ages 16 to 22 better prepare for college.

“This is one of the state’s best programs,” Rosenstone said. “It makes a difference to a lot of people. [There’s] a lot to be proud of.”

Program leaders receive referrals from high school counselors for some students, while others put in their own application. Students participate in classes specific in writing, reading and math, and career planning. They also attend seminars, workshops and educational field trips.

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor Steven Rosenstone congratulates students for taking part in the Be Your Best College Prep Academy.
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor Steven Rosenstone congratulates students for taking part in the Be Your Best College Prep Academy.

Multicultural Programs Coordinator Yesenia Mendoza was excited about the program this year.

“It’s just a way to get students kind of exposed to the college experience,” Mendoza said.

All 23 students in this year’s Be Your Best weren’t native English speakers. For Fabiola Marquez, 18, the classes helped her improve in both English and grammar, skills she was excited to work on.

“I wanted to increase my English and get a better understanding of English,” Marquez said.

Marquez plans to attend Riverland in Owatonna when she graduates high school next year. After Riverland, she plans to continue on to a four-year college, but she hasn’t picked a major yet.

For 18-year-old Luis Fernando, the summer classes were a way to improve in math and English.

“It was a really helpful thing; it helped me a lot,” Fernando said.

He plans to enroll at Riverland Community College this fall and major in carpentry.

Maria Gutierrez, 17, also plans to attend Riverland, but she still has a year of high school. Gutierrez got involved with the program after both her sisters were involved.

Miguel Marcos, left, and Jesse Reyes, right go over their testimonials during the Be Your Best College Prep Academy graduation.
Miguel Marcos, left, and Jesse Reyes, right go over their testimonials during the Be Your Best College Prep Academy graduation.

“I improved so much on my [test] scores,” Gutierrez said.

She hopes to transfer to Winona State University after two years of Riverland and study criminal justice.

This year’s class took part in two service activities: painting a home through Vision 2020’s Community Home Improvement Project and serving lunch at the senior center.

Ten of this year’s graduates plan to enroll at Riverland Community College this semester. The other 13 are still in high school.

Mendoza hopes to help students become aware of resources available at the college and in the community.

Mendoza was excited to see the chancellor at the event. After meeting him earlier in the year at a separate celebration, she explained what the program did and sent him an invitation to the World-Cup themed graduation.

This is the eighth year of the college preparation program, which has served over 180 students. Be Your Best was started through a MnSCU grant, but the funding only lasted one year. After a successful first year, The Hormel Foundation started funding it through its APEX Austin program, according to Director of Retention and Student Success Danielle Heiny.

“It’s just been a wonderful project for the college and the families and students involved,” Heiny said. “This summer academy is one of the most fulfilling projects that I work with at the college.”


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