RCC prepares for first year of scholarship recipients

Published 2:09 pm Saturday, August 17, 2019

Riverland Community College will be welcoming students back to campus soon for fall semester. For some, this will be a new chapter that was made possible through a game-changing scholarship program.

Monday, Aug. 26, marks the beginning for the first class of students who applied and received The Hormel Foundation Austin Assurance Scholarship, which will help cover the entirety of their college expenses during the two years students are enrolled and attending school.

Even though exact numbers have not been released yet, Riverland Community College officials indicated that preliminary enrollment numbers for the upcoming year, because of the scholarship program, have “significantly increased” and that through the next week, Riverland will continue to register students for fall semester courses and several students were completing their volunteer hours, which is a requirement for the scholarship.

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“As a result of The Hormel Foundation Austin Assurance Scholarship program, Riverland enrollment of 2019 graduates from Austin High and Pacelli High has already significantly increased over previous year averages for enrollment of Austin students,” said Janelle Koepke, dean of institutional advancement. “Riverland is really pleased with this level of engagement from Austin students, especially in the first year of the scholarship program. We anticipate more students taking advantage of this scholarship in future years.”

Putting into context, the staff at Riverland is also seeing an increase of activity leading up to the start of school. For Amanda Matthews, director of advising, her office has been even busier.

“We start the 26th, and we are still registering a lot of students at 8 p.m. last night,” Matthews said. “Some express needs for advising in the evenings, there’s walk-in advising and registration. Usually, this week and the first week of school is the busiest of the year. It’s busy when compared to other years, and we’re in the heat of it. Numbers are up, so we are definitely busy.”

The impact? The numbers will show

Although it’s hard to say how much of an impact the Austin Assurance Scholarship Program will have in the future, the current effects can be measured through community service.

Since Pacelli and AHS students must fulfill a required amount of community service hours to qualify for the scholarship, United Way of Mower County has been heavily involved in tracking the impacts of the influx of students assisting organizations in Austin.

As of Wednesday, United Way of Mower County has 1,563 students registered on Get Connected from both Pacelli and AHS. Overall, 9,986 hours have been logged on Get Connected within the first year, according to Karem Sales Ramirez, community impact coordinator.

“Our primary goal with Get Connected is to support the youth in learning to network, give back to their community, gain a deeper understanding of themselves, and acquire additional skills and traits,” Ramirez said. “In the long run, we hope this goes beyond a scholarship requirement and the students are able to create strong relationships within the community to someday settle down in Austin or take a strong interest in current events and local affairs.”

Working alongside key partners such as the Austin Public Schools District, Pacelli Catholic Schools, The Hormel Foundation, the United Way of Mower County and Riverland Community College, as well as many other key players, changing the playing field for those who may not have considered higher education as a possibility was rewarding, whether that’d be offsetting the financial burden of obtaining a license, certificate or degree, or even lending a hand in community service.

“The Hormel Foundation Austin Assurance Scholarship program is helping make college possible for so many Austin students who are working toward their career and educational goals,” Koepke said.

A significant way the success of the scholarship program can be measured would be the community service requirement for students to receive the money for school.

Ramirez stated that by providing opportunities for students to earn their college education through acts of service, she believed that overall the program would be building future leaders in civics and responsibility for residents contributing to the community they’re a part of, whether that’d be in Austin or not.

“As students leave their comfort zones, they will be able to improve or learn new skill sets and try something different,”said. “Networking is a unique experience that students will be able to have access to early on to foster their career development. We hope that through Get Connected, students will be able to find value in volunteering and be set for future growth.”

It may be a little while before the direct effects can be measured and knowing the exact number of people the scholarship program helped in their educational careers, but the building of support for students to succeed could not be stressed enough.

“We want the community to engage with one another, to work together and that is something the youth can help us with,” Ramirez said. “Apart from the tuition relief the Assurance Scholarship provides, I feel the program’s greatest advantage is its networking element as a result of volunteering. Students will meet new faces as they volunteer with different organizations, create connections and feel supported as they move into adulthood.”