Going to college never seemed like a possibility for Ellen Adria Bartlett. "Grade school was a very challenging time for me and junior high was not any better. When I graduated from high school, it was much more than anyone had ever expected of me."
After high school, Bartlett spent a few years in the work force before realizing that she missed learning. Bartlett wasn't sure what to do; college still seemed out of reach.
"I thought that applying to college meant you had to have money and already be successful. And after doing research about the process, I couldn't believe that government grants helped students pay for education. I felt like there had to be a catch somewhere."
Despite her reservations, Bartlett decided to take the plunge and immerse herself into university culture. This year, at age 32, the Edmonds resident is graduating from UW Bothell with her Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a concentration in Community Psychology, proving to herself that a college degree was, indeed attainable.
Due to her experiences and ultimately her success, Bartlett decided to give back and became part of the UW Bothell's Dream Project, a special initiative that helps local high school students find paths to college despite barriers such as low income or lack of family experience with higher education.
The UW Bothell Dream Project began in the fall of 2008, when 14 students came together for a class, taught by Education Professor, Jane Van Galen and UW Seattle Professor, Stan Chernicoff. They soaked up knowledge about the already successful UW Seattle Dream Project, which began in 2003. UW Bothell hoped that they could create a program similar to theirs and help start a dialogue with local high school students about attaining the college dream.
By spring quarter 2009, the Dream Project course enrollment had grown to 34, not including volunteers. "Students initiated all contacts with the schools and planned a wide variety of events for teens and parents, on-campus visits, and fundraising," says Van Galen. "They've really taken off and are creating a multi-faceted, very energetic organization committed to enabling more students to attain the dream of getting to college." Van Galen is pleased with the program's success and the program remains close to her heart because she herself was the first in her family to graduate from college.
The UW Bothell Dream Project is unique in that it involves undergrads who are enrolled in an academic course about educational access issues who then organize the outreach and mentoring program. In the outreach and mentoring program, Bartlett and three dozen other UW Bothell students help build relationships with over 70 juniors and various staff at Bothell High (Northshore School District), Juanita High (Lake Washington School District) and Mariner High in Everett (Mukilteo School District).
Nyla Brittle (UW Bothell class of 2010) works with students from Juanita High School. In her role she is getting to know teenagers who, like herself, could become "first generation" college students - generally defined as being the first in their families to become undergraduates. "There are several students whose parents both needed to drop out of high school, and immigrate to the States," says Brittle, a Kenmore resident born in Okinawa, Japan. She's certain that these high school students have the passion and drive needed to succeed to the next level. "They just need help navigating the pathway from high school junior to college student."
I like the opportunity to 'pay it forward' to someone who is going through the same thing I did. I can give them my advice and in turn they will hopefully do the same for someone else.Esther Wong UW Bothell Freshman
The connections made by UW Bothell students are impressing Juanita High School Guidance Counselor Paul Peretti. "I can see a good student/mentor relationship starting. I hope we can involve the parents in the process and start another cohort this time next year."
UW Bothell Chancellor Kenyon Chan sees the Dream Project as offering an outstanding opportunity for the university to reach out to high school juniors and seniors at a time when they are facing complex choices and stresses. "For so many students, like Bartlett and Brittle, the best path to college isn't the simplest or straightest and we want to help them get to where they want to be."
Van Galen emphasizes that her students also gain special benefits as they support each other in the course and in mentoring high school students. "We have freshman and seniors working on projects together, first-generation students connecting with others while sharing experiences and talking openly about the challenges and joys of being the first in their family to discover all that college can offer." This dialogue proves to be especially rewarding for the students as they reflect on their personal journeys to higher education and their subsequent successes.
UW Bothell freshman Esther Wong, a first generation student who grappled with uncertainties before deciding to enter college says, "I want high school students to know that they're not alone when they're feeling lost. I want them to see that even though you may not have any clue about where you are in life, there is always someone to help them, guide them, and most of all grow with them." Wong wishes she had had someone with her when she was so lost in life. As a Dream Project participant, she now has the opportunity to make a remarkable difference in someone's life. Wong says, "I like the opportunity to 'pay it forward' to someone who is going through the same thing I did. I can give them my advice and in turn they will hopefully do the same for someone else."
Van Galen and all of the students working with the UW Bothell Dream project look forward to the time - coming soon - when Dream Scholars (high school students that UW Bothell has worked with) will be enrolled at UW Bothell and join the Dream Project to continue this inspiring work. For more information about the UW Bothell Dream Project or to get involved, visit their Web site: www.uwb.edu/dreamproject/.