Mentors Bridge Gaps to Help First-Generation Students Go to College

By Arizona Education News Service

This story and photos were posted with permission from Arizona Education News Service:

Antontrey BegayeAntontrey Begaye knew he wanted to become a physician after doing clinical rotations as a medical assistant in high school while taking career and technical education classes in the Flagstaff Unified School District.

But he wasn’t quite sure how to get there until he received help from mentors Eugene Begay and Kim Kryger at Northern Arizona University’s Educational Talent Search. They encouraged Begaye to apply for financial aid through College Success Arizona and drove him to Phoenix for the interview.

Now Begaye, a recent graduate from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s of health sciences degree, is applying to medical schools.

“College Success Arizona allowed me to focus on that and not worry about any debt or loans to pay back,” Begaye said. “It’s been really great with the impact that they played in my life, my personal development, my educational journey. I’m really grateful for that.”

In the future, Begaye plans to practice internal medicine with community members in Flagstaff and the nearby Rough Rock Navajo reservation where he grew up.

“Education is the most important thing to support if we’re going to have a healthy society,” said Jim Lundy, founding president and CEO of Alliance Bank of Arizona, who hosted a recent luncheon where Begaye was honored.

College graduates in Arizona

In Arizona, about 37 percent of adults currently have postsecondary degrees and credentials, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s considerably less than the 68 percent of all jobs in Arizona that will require a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2020 as projected by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

“Post high school education is really important in today’s society. Things are different (than they used to be),” said Robert Sarver, president and CEO of Western Alliance Bancorporation and managing partner of the Phoenix Suns. “A college degree is almost like what a high school degree was 35 to 40 years ago.”

“We compete globally for jobs and business, and technology has taken over a lot of the jobs that typically high school graduates got,” said Sarver. “If you really want to have a good chance for success, you have to get a college degree.”

Sarver and his wife, Penny, believe strongly in giving back to their community, and much of their personal philanthropy as well as their corporate giving goes directly toward improving educational opportunities, Lundy said.

Sarver, a University of Arizona graduate, was also honored at College Success Arizona’s Jim Lundy/Robert Sarver/Rich NickelLeaders & Legends luncheon. College Success Arizona works to increase Arizona’s college graduation rate through partnerships with college access and scholarship programs, providing scholarships, mentors for students, and support for more than 200 college access and success organizations throughout the state.

Seventy percent of College Success Arizona students are the first in their family to go to college, and 100 percent of students have high financial need, said Rich Nickel, president and CEO of College Success Arizona.

“All students face barriers in getting their college degree. First-generation students face even more challenges,” Nickel said. Since 2005, College Success Arizona has committed almost $14 million in scholarships to nearly a thousand students, said Vince Roig, founding chairman of Helios Education Foundation and chairman of College Success Arizona’s Board of Directors.

“During that time, 241 College Success Arizona scholars have earned a degree, and 400 students currently in our program will earn a degree over the next few years,” Roig said.

The organization also honored Deb Carstens, manager of Carstens Family Funds and College Success Arizona board member, with the initial Bob Craves Vision of Success Award. “She was instrumental in fostering the success of almost 100 College Success Arizona students over the last 10 years and makes a true difference in our community by investing in multiple programs that impact low-income, high-potential students throughout the education continuum,” Roig said.

College Success Arizona has given many young people the opportunity to pursue a higher education they otherwise might have thought was out of reach, Sarver said.

“We decided that we want to help a little bit, too. We are going to basically fund 20 kids a year for two years to go to any junior college within the State of Arizona,” Sarver said. “At Jim’s recommendation and his idea, we’re going to donate $100,000 to College Success Arizona.” Sarver’s interest in education Sarver said his parents instilled in him the value of a college education.

His mother was a committed teacher, who believed strongly in education. “My dad, on the other hand, didn’t have it quite as good,” Sarver said. “My dad did not have enough money to go to college, and it was important for him that his kids went to college.”

About a month after Sarver’s father passed away in the 1980s, the superintendent of schools in Tucson came to their home to talk with Sarver’s mother and the rest of the family.

“For the last five years, unbeknownst to my mother and any of us, my dad had been funding a new suit, a new dress for any high school graduate in the City of Tucson who couldn’t afford to get one, because he remembered when he went to graduation he was embarrassed that he didn’t have the money to have a decent pair of shoes and a jacket,” Sarver said. “That’s the first time it really hit home to me what he meant by education and how important it is.”

Sarver said he can see what education has done for this three sons who are in high school, the opportunities education is creating for them, and the possibility for success they will have. “I know it’s impossible to get to this point, but as a goal it would be nice if all kids had the opportunity to get an advanced education beyond high school like my three sons have the opportunity to get,” Sarver said. “That’s one of the things that this organization does.”

Why mentors are key

While funding remains critically important, the key to helping a student complete college is a mentor or success advisor who encourages and guides that student’s success, Nickel said. “Students in our program today are graduating at a rate of over 70 percent, thanks to our success advisors along with the funding,” Nickel said.

Mentoring partnerships with The Arizona Community Foundation, APS, ASU, Maricopa Community Colleges, Gear Up, The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Helios Education Foundation, Arizona Diamondbacks, SRP, The Steele Foundation and many more organizations have been key.

Increased mentoring has helped raise the number of students who complete their college degrees, Roig said. “Oftentimes our scholars do not have a role model, someone who has gone to college before, so it’s not a discussion over what college are you going to go to, but maybe we’ll have enough to get you to college,” Roig said. “That’s a very different discussion.”

When students get to campus it can be overwhelming, Roig said. “Having a mentor that understands the process can get you through simple things like ‘Where do I register? Or I need this for my dorm room, how do I get it? I know it sounds very simple, but these are hurdles for individuals. If you put a number of them together, it’s cause for them to leave. Money doesn’t do it alone.”

Begaye said his mentors from high school through college have been so helpful in so many ways. “They show me things I don’t see myself,” Begaye said. “They really point you in the right direction and they really care. They’re dedicated and compassionate for my success.”

Begaye said his mentors Angie Delgadio and Caleb Holstein helped him so much while he was at Arizona State University. “High school is very different from university level courses, so they were there to really listen to my struggles and my accomplishments and keep me guided in the right direction by connecting me to resources, community services and individuals in the field of medicine,” Begaye said. “That was really important for me.”

In recognition of the importance of mentors, Begaye honored one of his earlier mentors – Eugene Begay from Northern Arizona University’s Educational Talent Search – by presenting him with the first College Success Arizona Star Award.

“For 25 years, he’s been dedicated and committed to student success up in Northern Arizona,” Begaye said. “He’s really great at his job and providing services for first generation, low-income students like myself for the past 25 years.”

The award recognizes the college access and success professional who has demonstrated an extraordinary level of personal commitment and leadership, and goes above and beyond to help their students – especially low-income, first-generation Arizona students – access higher education, Nickel said. College students or young people aren’t the only ones who need mentors, Sarver said.

“Everyone needs mentors at all stages in life,” Sarver said, noting he was fortunate to have a number of mentors. “You’re going to need mentors as you go on through your life and career,” Sarver said. “It helps to learn from smart people who can really help you and care about your success.”

Read the companion story, "Closing Gaps, Increasing College Grads to Meet Economic, Workforce Needs" at Arizona Education News Service. 



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