Opportunity is the driving force that powers UWM’s pre-college programs and brings thousands of young people to campus.
They come from grade schools to visit a university campus for the first time. They come from middle schools to sharpen their math skills. They come from high schools to prepare for careers as doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects.
“Our priority is designing programs for students from low-income and underrepresented families,” says April Holland, executive director of TRIO and Pre-college programs at UWM. She describes this as “early intervention” for students in grades six through 12 who have college potential, but do not recognize or understand their academic or career options beyond high school.
Video by Mary Rinzel
IN THIS VIDEO: Go inside a UWM pre-college classroom as students learn about forensic science. Hear from current and former students and the program’s director.View full size on YouTube
Federal TRIO programs such as Upward Bound and Talent Search join UWM’s State of Wisconsin funded efforts like Saturday Academy, ACT Prep Class, Planning for the Future, Future Success Program and Quest Project.
They all share that critical exposure to a major university. “Most of our students have never set foot on a college campus before. They attend classes in lecture halls and labs, have access to the library and UWM Union, and meet faculty, staff and college students,” says Holland.
While the university’s pre-college programs can act as a pipeline drawing students to UWM, the main goal is for students to pursue postsecondary study.
Gregory Ware, manager of the Mary Ryan Club of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, says pre-college “continues to give kids hope, even in these tough economic times,” with coursework that “gives students who go on to college a jump-start over those who didn’t take advantage of pre-college.”
Encourage, inspire, empower, motivate
Workshops and seminars for parents are important, but Holland also emphasizes the relationships her staff builds with families. “We build a climate of support for these students and their families as they strive to climb out of poverty and dependence,” she says. “We encourage, we inspire, we empower and we motivate.”
UWM’s pre-college staff brings that message to the community, visiting the United Community Center, YMCAs and churches, getting the message out that college is attainable.
Holland says this outreach has resonance with the community because it is “reality-based.” Many pre-college staff members have had to overcome academic, racial, class and cultural barriers. Holland was the first in her own family to attend college. “In other words, we’ve been there.”
Back to ‘home base’
Holland’s commitment and concern for “her kids” is apparent. Being hired to head UWM’s TRIO and Pre-college Programs in January reunites her with a campus that she describes as her professional (and personal) “home base.” Holland’s career in higher education began at UWM in 1982. She served as the director of pre-college programs from 1991-2000, “working with some of the most dynamic people I’ve ever been connected with.” Other career experience includes administrative positions with a high school, private colleges and universities, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Holland says this “very rich career history” has influenced her approach to pre-college education. “These multiple perspectives help me focus on how to meet the needs of our students during very challenging economic times.”
Ware agrees that Holland’s extensive experience is invaluable. “She has the contacts to enhance UWM’s position with businesses, nonprofit organizations and state agencies.”
Holland’s return to UWM has reunited her with a number of pre-college “success stories.” Audia Young was one of the area high schoolers chosen for a two-year Scholars of Math, Technology and Foreign Language program that culminated in a four-week trip to China in July 1999. After graduating from Milwaukee’s Rufus King High School, she attended Marquette University and earned a degree in computer science.
Young has worked for GE Healthcare for the last seven years, and credits her many pre-college courses at UWM with helping her develop vital skills that carried her through university studies and a challenging career.
“The pre-college staff members were very engaging and motivating,” Young says. “They made sure that students stayed on time and on track.” She values the emphasis on self-discipline. Young also describes the “sense of security” she felt during her middle- and high-school experiences at UWM. “I felt confident that I was gaining the skills that would ensure me success in the future.”
Holland encourages parents interested in enrolling children in pre-college to contact the office directly at 414-229-2845. Parents are mailed an information packet about programs and services that includes Holland’s business card. “Parents can speak to me directly and I can refer them to program directors. We always welcome the opportunity to speak with parents, find out about their child’s academic needs and direct them to the appropriate program.”