By Dylan Deprey
As a student, Alexis Diggs thought college was far from reality, and to travel far outside the City of Milwaukee to a Historic Black College was just a fantasy.
She just needed some vision.
As a parent, Lisa Jennings watched her daughter’s talents flourish, yet she too was unsure of what to do for her daughter Billie.
“I always told her everything she touches turns to gold,” Jennings said “I didn’t know anything about putting her in a good college, or pushing her in the right direction.”
Jennings just needed a helping hand.
The pathway to higher education can be a grim shadow shrouded in doubt, and can be especially troublesome for low income and first-generation students.
Now, Diggs is a junior at UWM studying social work, and wants to pursue a master’s degree in education to become a teacher.
Jennings watched as her daughter was accepted to colleges throughout the U.S., eventually accepting a full-ride scholarship to Howard University in Washington D.C.
Sometimes both parents and students need vision and some guidance down the pathway to higher education, and it was all thanks to the pre-college program, Pathways Milwaukee.
Pathways Milwaukee has worked with first generation and low income students from 6th grade through college over the past 10 years. As they have followed their oldest students from the beginning in 2007, to their Junior year in college, AT&T decided to join the efforts on Pathways’ 10-year anniversary.
The AT&T Foundation donated $50,000 towards the program, during Pathway’s middle school student and parent seminar at Cardinal Stritch University on Jan. 28.
“The program has shown proven success with 100 percent graduation rate,” said Scott VanderSanden, AT&T Wisconsin President. “We want to support programs that give kids a chance to get into college, and out of college.”
The contribution will support some of the main program components including: after-school tutoring and skill-building sessions, Saturday college knowledge workshops, a three-week Summer Academy focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, math) subjects, and two leadership summits.
Executive Director Milton Cockroft thanked their partners over the years, some of which included Bader Philanthropies, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Siebert Lutheran Foundation and UPS.
“They took a chance and invested in our children,” Cockroft said. “And now that vision they had of what our children could become is coming to fruition. This city and country will reap the benefits of their vision, and we would like to thank all of them for their commitment to the children and families in our community.”
Pathways’ four component program begins by prospecting students in 3rd through 5th grade. The pre-college element then prepares them from 6th grade through high school.
Whether it is weekend workshops or touring colleges around the country the students are fully engulfed in positive direction.
“The workshops and stuff we do kind of shows us that it’s possible,” Diggs said. “There are people behind you to help you get to that place.”
Unlike some programs that only work with kids in high school to get them an acceptance letter, Pathways’ stays connected with students throughout their entire college career.
The final aspect of the program is the parent component, which asks parents to be fully committed to their children’s education.
“My mom has always been involved with what I do, and she’s part of my success as well, but having that parent component also helped us become closer as well because she knows what I’m involved in,” Diggs said.
Pathways began with 44 students and nine partnering universities, and has grown to over 350 students and 22 partnering schools.
Cockroft said he was excited to see the first class graduate college, but noted that Pathways was more than just sending kids to college.
“We want to make sure that if you make it through pathways you are not only ready for college, but if you decide to go a different route, whether its straight into the workforce, you will be prepared,” Cockroft said.