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New Initiative Means College is Not Just a Dream for Some Local Students

For some high school students the thought of applying to college can be daunting. For others it seems an impossible dream. With the decline of federal and state aid and increasing costs of college tuition it is difficult for low-income students to enroll at many universities despite their desire to attend.

Vanessa Rodriguez, the coordinator of Creighton University’s new Ignatian College Connection (ICC) program, says she knows exactly how those students feel, she was in their shoes once. As a first-generation college student from a low-income Latino family, Rodriguez knows how difficult it can be to grow up with limited options.

ICC, an initiative of Creighton President Timothy R. Lannon, S.J., will provide high school students who face significant obstacles the opportunity to prepare for college by providing them with the tools, skills and support needed to help attain their goals. The program, which provides nine months of workshops, campus experiences, mentoring and a service component, provides two full-ride scholarships to Creighton for qualifying participants.

The first cohort of 41 students will begin its journey July 12 when they attend an orientation session on the Creighton campus.

“The ICC program will provide an intimate setting for these students that will allow them to explore educational opportunities in a supportive environment,” said Rodriguez. “The mentoring aspect of this program allows current Creighton students to share advice and guidance, to help program participants achieve their goals.”

Rodriguez earned a degree in psychology and anthropology from Creighton in 2012. As a student, she worked as a mentor and summer camp leader for Girl Scouts. After graduation she was a family support worker for Beneficial Behavioral Health Services where she worked with low-income Latino families whose children were wards of the state. Vanessa helped these families find community resources, taught them how to provide their children with the basic necessities, and motivated them to strive for something better.

While 51 percent of the cohort is Hispanic, the students all have one thing in common – a desire to succeed. One student chose to move to Nebraska without his family because of the educational opportunity he was afforded after being accepted to Creighton Prep. Another wants to be a nurse because of her experience living most of her life in a refugee camp in Thailand. And then there is the young man who decided at the age of eight that he wanted to be a cardiologist, despite the fact that no one in his family has ever attended college.

Current Omaha high school sophomores and juniors who qualify as low-income, first-generation or underrepresented minority students and who have a minimum 3.3 GPA are eligible for the program.

Unlike similar federally funded programs such as Upward Bound and Trio, which helped Rodriguez realize her goals, ICC is targeted specifically at the Omaha community and provides access to Creighton through the ICC scholarships.If the program participants decide to attend Creighton, Rodriguez will be with them all through their college career.

“This is really a pipeline program that allows us to see the students through the beginning of the process to the end. We don’t drop them at the door of the University when they are done with high school and tell them they are on their own, ICC is there to help them make it to graduation,” said Rodriguez.

For more information about the program, contact Rodriguez at 402.280.2311 or email vanessarodriguez@creighton.edu.