Program aids first-generation college students - East Valley Tribune: News

Program aids first-generation college students

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Posted: Monday, August 23, 2004 10:50 am | Updated: 6:20 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

New Arizona State University roommates Mary Symonds and Jessica Jauregui will do something today that nobody in their families has ever done: Start college.

Neither tried to hide her excitement last week as the former badminton teammates from Mesa’s Westwood High School moved into the ASU honors dormitory in Tempe with the help of mentors assigned from the Mesa Unified School District.

The new freshmen responded without hesitation when one mentor asked if the friends had a color scheme in mind for their sparse room.

"Maroon and gold!" said Jauregui, 19.

She and Symonds, 18, already had a start on the motif with the ASU T-shirts that both wore.

"Before, it was all Westwood," Jauregui explained. "I’m really into that school spirit thing."

The 2004 high school graduates will attend college together as recipients of a new scholarship from the Valleybased Wood Foundation designed to help firstgeneration college students get started.

Already, Jauregui is the first person in her family with a high school diploma.

"You’re taking the first steps in your family," Jauregui said. "You don’t have a path to follow."

Overall, 10 graduates from Westwood and Mesa high schools earned the Wood Scholar awards and will start classes today with about 60,000 other students at ASU and 122,000 students in the Maricopa Community College District.

Symonds and Jauregui said their families have been supportive of the path they have chosen — but both students’ mothers also took steps to make sure their daughters would not forget them at college.

A decorative pillow on Symonds’ bed displayed the message: "A daughter is just a little girl who grows up to be a friend." And tucked under Symonds’ bed was a plastic tub filled with emergency college items from her mother, including dozens of cups of instant ramen noodles.

"She bought me every flavor so I could pick which ones I like," Symonds said.

Rather than noodles, Jauregui’s mother sent her to college with a full range of school supplies.

"I can tell you she’s missing me right now," Jauregui said. "She said I would be back home within three months."

Career goals from the inaugural class of Wood Scholars include microbiology, nursing, business, dance, music education and law.

"We’re going to see some big things from these students," said Jauregui’s mentor, Carolyn O’Reilly, an educational services analyst in the Mesa district who also serves as the district’s liaison to the Wood Foundation.

Many of the Wood Scholars graduated near the top of their classes and qualified for multiple scholarships. At Westwood, for example, Jauregui was ranked 14th and Symonds was ranked 17th.

O’Reilly said the Wood Foundation made up for any shortfall in the costs of tuition, books, room and board.

"It filled in the gaps," O’Reilly said. "If a student didn’t get a lot of scholarships, then they got more money."

The foundation even provided each award recipient with a Palm Pilot programmed with the phone number of a designated Mesa district staff member ready to help with any problems that arise.

Doug Cook, an attorney with the Wood Foundation, said Homa and Irene Wood earned millions of dollars in the oil and retail industries, and Irene Wood moved to Arizona after her husband’s death.

She died in 2001 and left her entire estate for the purpose of helping students from low-income homes pursue their college dreams.

Cook said the partnership with the Mesa school district fits nicely with that objective.

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