Blugold Beginnings mentors young students in Eau Claire

The UW-Eau Claire Blugold Beginnings program will host an open house for the campus community from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is meant to increase awareness of the program, which is relatively new.

“It will just be a great opportunity . university-wide,” Program Coordinator Lissa Martinez said, “so students and staff from all different offices have the chance to see where we’re actually located, see that we’re a program up and running and then also to become aware of what we actually do.”

The Blugold Beginnings program, which began last spring, is an outreach program for elementary through high school students in the Eau Claire area. Through the program, UW-Eau Claire students like junior student intern Rogelio Encizo, are sent into the schools to act as mentors. The high school students are also invited to attend monthly events on campus.

When the program started, the mentors worked only at the high school level, but in August, the program expanded to include fifth grade as well.

The job of the mentor varies, depending on the situation, Encizo said.

“We have some Hmong students working directly with Hmong students who can only speak Hmong,” Encizo said. “And then we also have some students that work with Hispanic/Latino students who can only speak Spanish. And then we have students who need help in (areas) like science and math . so it all depends.”

Those interested in becoming mentors are required to fill out an application and attend mandatory training sessions, Martinez said. Then they are paired with younger students who have also filled out an application. The pairings are based on experience, academic areas of expertise and other information included on the initial application.

The main purpose behind the Blugold Beginnings program is to help students who may not have previously thought about continuing education after high school, Program Assistant Christine Webster said.

“A lot of the students that we’re targeting may . be first generation,” Webster said, “so the conversations about preparing for college and what you need to do to prepare for college aren’t necessarily happening.”

One of the exciting things about the program, she said, is that as early as fifth grade, the students are introduced to a college atmosphere when they get to come to campus.

“Even at that young age, they’re already going to step foot on a campus and visualize themselves being on campus in the future,” she said.

The program isn’t a recruiting tool, though, Martinez said.

“The overall goal would be to inform them and educate them about their options,” she said, “whether it’s a two-year or a four-year university (or) college, or a trade school or just informing them of their options.”

She added it would be wonderful if they found Eau Claire to be a good fit for them, but “the overall big picture is just to inspire them to continue their education after high school.”

In the future, the Blugold Beginnings staff would like to see a lot of expansion.

“Eventually we’d like to service all fifth through twelfth grade students within a 60-mile radius of campus,” Martinez said. “So that’s kind of our big vision for Blugold Beginnings.”