New program promotes education

PULLMAN– Regardless of academic potential, many students living in Northeastern Washington, where towns are often separated by seemingly endless and desolate roads, don’t show-up on the radar screen at most colleges and universities. This is especially true if they are from impoverished families that have no experience with higher education.

With the help of a new U.S. Department of Education grant, Washington State University will soon be in position to seek out the academic talent hiding in this region of the state. WSU received notice last week that it had received a commitment of $220,000 for four years to start a new Educational Talent Search Program serving the Okanogan Valley. The program will focus on nine middle and high schools in Okanogan, Douglas and Grant Counties.

The goal of Educational Talent Search programs is to identify and assist individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the potential to succeed in higher education. Services provided by the program include academic, financial, career, and personal counseling as well as tutoringcollege campus exposure, university entrance applications and exams assistance, mentoring, and workshops for the families of participants.

Although residents in these counties are primarily Caucasian, there are significant populations of Native Americans and Hispanics. “Many of these families, especially from migrant backgrounds, feel it is not feasible to continue school past the eighth grade,” said Luci Loera, WSU’s interim dean of students. “Encouraging students to continue their education is vital for these communities and is an important objective of our program.”

Loera and Alton Jamison, vice president for student affairs at WSU, made a compelling case for bringing Educational Talent Search to this particular region of the state. Their research demonstrated that per capita income in Okanogan, Douglas, and Grant Counties is less than 67 percent of the national average. Okanogan is termed a “severely distressed” county in a report titled “Poverty America: Measuring Economic Distress,” produced by the United States Department of Agriculture in 2003.

“Hundreds of potentially bright students attend schools in this region, but have limited awareness of postsecondary opportunities, requirements, or procedures,” Jamison said. “Although the challenges are great, the appropriate advisement, monitoring, tutoring and postsecondary awareness activities can significantly impact these challenges.”

An Educational Talent Search staff consisting of a director, advisor, program assistant, and tutors will be established in the Okanogan Valley.
Loera and Jamison said they plan to collaborate with Gail Casper, director of WSU’s Upward Bound program in the region, as they establish the new office and serve the area’s residents.

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