Meet four high school seniors who are participating in College Possible, a program to help low-income students get in to, pay for and succeed at college. This is the first in a series following them from acceptance through freshman year.
A week into her freshman year at Marquette University and a few days after moving into Cobeen Hall, Panou Xiong moved back to her parents’ home near 45th and Locust streets.
The problem is not with her roommate, whom she likes a lot. It’s a change in anticipated financial aid combined with obligations to her extended family.
When Xiong decided to live on campus, she thought the Educational Opportunity Program, which is a major component of her education financing would pay for classes she plans to take next summer. The day before fall classes started, she learned that EOP would fund summer classes only for seniors. Unwilling to take on more debt, Xiong decided to save her dorm fees to cover her summer classes. At the same time, her family asked her to help out with after-school care for two young relatives.
“I am disappointed, but considering I will have less debt, I’m pretty relieved,” said Xiong, who will commute on city buses or ride with a sister who works near Marquette.
Xiong’s unexpected change of residence gave her the least smooth transition into college among the four College Possible students that Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service is tracking during their first year in college. The others are Peter Khanthavong, Nury Plascencia and Darneisha Virginia.
Virginia, initially unsure about living at Mount Mary University, decided in late summer to try campus life. She met her roommate, a transfer student from the Chicago area, the day she moved in.
“I feel good about it. It’s something different I haven’t done before but it’s interesting to find out what happens. I’m used to having my own room … so it’s new, but I can adapt,” Virginia said.
Like Xiong and Khanthavong, Virginia’s scholarship included a pre-college summer program. In addition, she continued working at the two part-time jobs she held in high school.
Virginia earned four credits for the six-week Grace Scholars Summer Bridge Program course, College Reading and Thinking. She said it was difficult but it helped prepare her for college work. “Everything had to be typed and if you didn’t have it in [on time] there was no point in you even turning it in,” she said. She was shocked, she said, but clearly pleased that she got an A.
Xiong had an opportunity to experience dorm life during two summers in Marquette’s Schroeder Hall. In July, she took three college-level courses in chemistry, calculus and the history of Western civilization as part of EOP.
Registered for a yearlong chemistry class, a prerequisite for the five-year physician assistant program she is interested in, Xiong appreciated the opportunity to preview the subject. “It was pretty difficult. It’s definitely prepared me to study, to be more focused and just to be better prepared,” she said.
Mount Mary freshman Nury Plascencia chose to live in a single room, but as one of six Caroline Scholars entering the university and one of 24 on campus, she has a built-in peer group.
The scholars kicked off the school year with a three-day retreat. They were introduced to campus resources and local nonprofits, where they will put in 300 volunteer hours. Plascencia signed on at Community Advocates’ Milwaukee Women’s Center.
For the second summer, she participated in a one-week World Affairs Seminar on gender equity with students from around the world on the Carroll University campus in Waukesha. She said the seminar helped her feel more confident about the academic challenges ahead.
“After my parents and younger sister left [on move-in day], it was nerve wracking because I didn’t know where to go or what to do,” Plascencia said. But that feeling subsided quickly as she joined the other Caroline Scholars for dinner and a showing of the movie “The Help,” just half an hour later, she said. “They made me feel way welcome.”
Because of UWM’s schedule, Peter Khanthavong was the last of the four College Possible students to move into his dorm.
Khanthavong arrived at Sandburg Hall, 3400 N. Maryland Ave., on a hot Friday morning. His sister, her boyfriend and a friend drove him there and helped him carry his belongings up to the 6th floor of West Tower.
He had only met one of his three suite-mates, a young man from Johnson Creek, Wis. Though he admitted to feeling a bit nervous about not knowing the people he will be living with, he expects that within a week he will “get to know them well enough not to be nervous.”
Khanthavong is participating in the Student Support Services Program (SSS) for low-income, first-generation and disabled students at UWM. SSS’ Summer Bridge Program included three classes: math, financial literacy and College Success. College Success taught him about resources on campus, study tips, time management, how to get involved in clubs and terminology used on campus, he said.
“Instead of being placed in a remedial class, it allowed me to go into a regular math class that will give me credits toward my graduation,” he said.
Although Khanthavong did not earn credits this summer, the program provided experience, which enhanced his self-assurance and sense of comfort about staying on campus, he said. “I’m feeling pretty excited. I’m really happy to be here. Hopefully, I’ll learn to live by myself and make new friendships and get started on my career in whatever field I choose.”