After 10 years with the Dean's Future Scholars, Director Bob Edgington is passing the reins to Mariluz Garcia, a University of Nevada, Reno graduate with a bachelor's degree in elementary education and master's degree in counseling and educational psychology. Garcia served as a graduate assistant for Dean's Future Scholars for three years during her coursework and has worked in the Washoe County School District as a school counselor for the last five years.
Dean's Future Scholars (DFS) is an academic outreach program with the goal of increasing the numbers of low-income, first-generation students graduating high school, gaining access to higher education, and entering the field of education. Each year, about 50 sixth-grade students are selected by their teachers to become part of this College of Education mentoring program that will follow them for the next six years and into college. Washoe County School District is an important program collaborator.
Edgington, who has been the program's director since 2002, said, "Dean's Future Scholars has shown a successful track record of having more than 90 percent of its program participants graduating high school and entering college."
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The Dean's Future Scholars program currently mentors 345 local students in grades seven through 12 at 26 different schools throughout Washoe County School District. The program employs 31 University students who mentor middle school, high school, and college program participants each week during the school year.
One unique characteristic about Dean's Future Scholars is that 71 percent of the University student mentors are program alumni themselves and have been involved with the program since sixth-grade.
In addition to building strong relationships with program participants, another goal of this long-term mentoring process is to encourage Dean's Future Scholars students to strengthen their math skills, and to take advanced placement and honors classes to prepare them for the rigor of higher education. The program includes on-campus summer programs, which introduces the scholars to college courses and helps them gain familiarity and confidence in a university setting.
"The program gets you thinking about college a lot earlier," said Karina Guerrero, a junior at Wooster High School and a Dean's Future Scholar's student since sixth grade at Echo Loder Elementary School. "I wouldn't be that interested in college without DFS."
The present group of scholars includes 60 new high school students who joined the program in 2010 as a result of a "Go to College" grant awarded by the Nevada System of Higher Education. The students, who attend the University of Nevada, Reno and Truckee Meadows Community College, continue to receive support and mentoring from Dean's Future Scholars. They are also encouraged to apply for campus student employment.
"The program creates another family," said Guerrero, who wants to be an interpreter or teacher in a foreign country and looks forward to study-abroad opportunities available at the University. "You are together and the mentors are there for you through and after high school. It has also encouraged me to challenge myself."
Garcia, a first-generation college graduate, said she's excited for the opportunity to work with an academic outreach program that serves underrepresented populations.
"I have found working with Dean's Future Scholars students to be a rewarding and enriching experience," Garcia said. "With the proper support, students can overcome any challenge."
Garcia, who was born and raised in Elko and received a Basque scholarship, federal aid and assistance from her family to help her through college, said that increasing scholarships for low-income, first-generation students is essential.
"One of our program goals is to increase scholarships for program participants," Garcia said. "It's just one less barrier for students to worry about."
Juan Rodriguez-Rivera, a senior at Reed High School, will be a first-generation college student and is already looking at schools throughout the country to pursue a career in medical science.
"We are getting a full college experience earlier so it won't be as much of a shock," he said of the DFS summer program. "Plus, it offers us some pretty good career outlooks."
"And we're not just getting college credit, but exposure and the opportunity to meet people, which is always important," fellow student Kimberly Puente, a senior at North Valleys High School, said. Puente plans to attend the University after high school and then attend law school.
Garcia also wants to ensure that the program continues to grow in a sustainable way.
"We want to take the next step and secure stable funding sources for the program," she said. "Educating a diverse work force and providing students the skills, the ability and ambition to go to college is an investment for all."
Currently, Dean's Future Scholars is funded by annual grants, private donations and in-kind contributions. For the past 10 years, Indianapolis-based nonprofit USA Funds has been a strong supporter of the Dean's Future Scholars Program.
Dean's Future Scholars was established in 2000 by William Sparkman, then dean of the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno, and maintains operation through the College of Education. Today, Dean Christine Cheney is committed to supporting the program's mission.