Cycles for Success scholarship opens doors

Published 8:16 am Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Yesenia Mendoza meets with her students every two weeks. As an adviser to Cycles for Success students, she helps them figure out how college works, guiding them to whatever resources like tutoring, financial aid help or anything else they may need. Mendoza is the main adviser for students who, if she wasn’t there, may not have succeeded in college.

Thanks to a $1 million grant from the Hormel Foundation, Riverland Community College will offer scholarships for the next five years for area high school graduates who would traditionally have a harder time getting a college education.

Riverland will grant scholarships to students who rank in the middle of their class and come from non-traditional college student backgrounds. In order to be eligible, students who graduate from either Austin or Pacelli High School must either come from a lower-to-middle class background, be the first generation of their family to pursue a college degree, or come from a group of color. The idea behind the program is to get more students into post-secondary education who normally wouldn’t have had a chance to get it.

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“It gives them an opportunity,” said Dani Heiny, Riverland’s director of Retention and the Cycles For Success program. “It gives them hope for a career pathway that might not be there otherwise.”

Riverland officials have tried to start the Cycles for Success program for several years, according to Dr. Terry Leas, Riverland’s president. Leas wanted to find a way to get students who were in what college officials call, “the middle 50 percent” of a class’s ranking. The popular education theory holds that students who graduate in the middle of their class may not be able to get post-secondary education, largely due to their family background.

“We’ve always heard about the negative cycles of poverty,” Leas said. “We can break that cycle of poverty and create cycles for success that will serve the individual, serve the community and serve employers.”

This is the pilot year for the program, of which 36 students were selected. The program came out fairly quickly, according to Mendoza. This year’s applications went out at the end of June and were due by July 15.

Since then, Mendoza has met with each student several times, as well as held several events for the students such as a luncheon with faculty and administrative staff and a geocaching trip last month.

While Mendoza meets with students every two weeks or so, Cycles for Success students will meet with her less and less as the year goes on, only meeting with her once a month next year, when a new crew is accepted into the program.

Cycles for Success students will be funded throughout their time at Riverland. According to Heiny, each group will be receiving about $200,000, split amongst students over the course of two years. Funding will continue for some students in programs like nursing, which takes about three years to complete. This will last as long as the Hormel Foundation’s grant does, although Dr. Leas said Riverland is busy trying to find other sources of grant money from the area to keep the program sustainable.

Plans for the program to grow are already in progress. Mendoza hopes to provide more events and opportunities outside of the classroom for Cycles for Success students, as well as their parents. She’ll be visiting AHS and PHS soon to talk with high schoolers on what they need to have ready to apply for one of Riverland’s programs.

She’s busy making tweaks to the program already. Mendoza plans on organizing parent information meetings to let them know what her students are going through and how the program is helping them navigate college life. She’s coming up with more enrichment programs for students as well.

“I have a real passion for helping those that are a little under served,” Mendoza said. “It’s important because a lot of these students are first generation. They haven’t gone through the process…you don’t want to lose those students.”