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Celebrating education

Upward Bound event focuses on first-generation college students

Photo by Deb Gau Tetta Askeland gave high school students from Marshall, Worthington and Yellow Medicine East a tour of the theater scene shop at SMSU on Saturday.

MARSHALL — Traveling from Florida to rural Minnesota to attend university was a culture shock, Carl Douglas said.

“I had never seen a red barn in my life until we were driving (to Marshall) on Highway 19,” Douglas told an audience of about 50 area high school students. Besides the change in environment, he was also moving from a Black community to one where the people were mostly white. “There were very few people who looked like me when I got here.”

But while at first it wasn’t easy adjusting to life in Marshall, Douglas said his experiences at Southwest Minnesota State University were life-changing.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Douglas said, answering a question from a student. “It put everything in perspective.”

Douglas, now the vice president of student affairs at Wayne State College, was the keynote speaker at a celebration of first-generation college students this weekend at SMSU. Speaking to students from Marshall High School, Worthington High School and Yellow Medicine East High School, Douglas said, “Make sure you choose a college that fits for you, and not someone else.”

The difference that a college education makes was one of the messages shared at the second annual “First Generation Celebration” coordinated by the TRIO Upward Bound program at SMSU. Nov. 8 is National First-Generation Day, celebrating the successes of students who were the first in their families to go to college. Organizers said it’s a celebration that fits with the mission of the Upward Bound program, which is to help underrepresented students prepare for and succeed in higher education. At SMSU, students served by Upward Bound include students who would be the first in their families to go on to college.

Area high school students said being part of Upward Bound has made a difference for them, through tutoring, career exploration, help with applying to colleges, and more.

“If you have questions, they help you,” said MHS student Ju Eh.

Worthington student Ashley Perez said she didn’t think she would have planned to go on to college if she hadn’t been part of Upward Bound.

On Saturday, students got to meet Upward Bound alumni and first-generation college graduates, take a backstage tour through the Fine Arts building at SMSU, and watch a play or a wheelchair basketball game.

While Saturday’s program was a celebration, parts of it were geared toward letting high school students experience the university and different areas of study and activities, said Amy Nemitz, director of Upward Bound at SMSU.

“We try to expose them to different programs. It might be something they never thought about,” Nemitz said. That was part of the reason students toured the stage, scene and costume shops in the university’s theater on Saturday afternoon.

Students said travel was one of the things they enjoyed about being part of Upward Bound.

“I like the college visits,” one student said. This year, the group traveled to Mankato, where they got a chance to tour different schools, including South Central College and Bethany Lutheran College.

In addition to the opportunities Upward Bound offered, students said they also liked having the support of other teens in the program.

“I made a lot of new friends in the program,” said MHS student GayMoo Thaw.

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