Esmeralda Cruz was nervous about making the transition from Milwaukee Area Technical College to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Michael Brown wanted to complete his GED (General Education Diploma) and begin to turn his life around after struggling with substance abuse problems.
Both Cruz and Brown found support in reaching their goals through the federally funded Educational Opportunity Center (EOC), based at UWM but serving eligible adults from all over Milwaukee County.
The center’s advisers help students set education goals, plan for the future and enroll in programs. The EOC’s services are free to low-income adults who are residents of Milwaukee County and the first in their families to go to trade or technical schools or college.
Cruz, who is now a business management major at UWM, was worried about making the transfer from MATC to the university. “I was concerned UWM would be very different from MATC, and I wasn’t sure how I would do. I had stereotyped myself…that as a Latina woman and an older student I wouldn’t be able to do it. I know better now, but at the time I was concerned.”
With a daughter in third grade, Cruz was also concerned about balancing family needs with her academic work. “The Educational Opportunity Center helped me make that transfer from MATC to UWM.” Now she’s confident that she will earn that accounting degree so she can help her husband in their family business, and perhaps become an entrepreneur herself.
Brown had alcohol issues that had caused legal and personal problems. “I was determined to do something to help myself and the Lord presented this opportunity.” EOC director and adviser Rita Muwonge was working at an EOC location near his home, and helped him get started on his journey to a new life.
With her help and encouragement, he went on to earn his high school diploma and is now enrolled at MATC in Oak Creek, learning the skills for a new career as a carpenter and cabinetmaker. “I’ve always liked working with my hands, but before I didn’t have the education to do the measuring and drafting.”
Those success stories and others illustrate the work of the EOC, says Muwonge. “Our mission is to expand awareness about educational opportunities and postsecondary education options to low-income, first-generation college students who are Milwaukee County adult residents,” she adds.
The EOC works in collaboration with MATC, the YWCA, United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS), the Social Development Commission and a wide variety of community-based social service providers, employment agencies, and other organizations.
A wealth of services
EOC advisers can help adults plan for their individual career and academic goals. They also work with potential students to select a college and handle admission and financial aid applications. The advisers can help students with study habits, time management and computer skills, and connect them with mentors and tutors.
In addition, the EOC holds workshops on resources, financial aid and transferring from two-year to four-year programs, and hosts a variety of cultural programs.
Mukwonge keeps in touch with many of the students who’ve succeeded with the help of the EOC. One woman, who came into the program as a single mother of four, had dropped out of school at age 13. With the help of EOC, she earned her GED, then moved on to earn a B.S. and M.S. in Occupational Therapy at Mt. Mary College. She is now working as an occupational therapist in Atlanta.
“We all know that education is an important key to advancement, but the choices are sometimes complicated, and mistakes can be expensive,” says Muwonge. “The college or university needs to fit an individual’s needs and financial situation. Many students we work with also have jobs and families to balance with their education. Our goal is to help them make the best decisions to meet their goals.”
For more information about the services of the EOC, call 414-229-2917 or visit the website at http://www4.uwm.edu/trio/eoc/.