Blugold Beginnings receives the 2017 Board of Regents Diversity Award

Program is recognized for creating an accessible and successful college experience


Photo by Submitted

Members of Blugold Beginnings accepted the $5,000 award Feb. 3 at the Board of Regents meeting in Madison. (Pictured left to right: Cheryl Snobl, Whisper Kappus-McDew, Karen Dominguez, Jodi Thesing-Ritter, Khong Meng Her and Chancellor Jim Schmidt. Not pictured: D’Karlos Craig, Dennis Beale, Crystal Vang and Olivia Vruwink).

After years of continued commitment to helping underrepresented students, UW-Eau Claire’s Blugold Beginnings program received recognition for their efforts in attempting to create successful college experiences.

On Friday, the UW System Board of Regents presented members of Blugold Beginnings with a $5,000 Diversity Award for 2017.

Jodi Thesing-Ritter, the executive director for diversity and inclusion — and the founder and director of Blugold Beginnings — said the award confirmed the program’s approach of collaboration and student engagement was working.

“Students working together to spread that message is probably stronger than if it was just me spreading the message,” Thesing-Ritter said. “To receive this honor sort of validates that real sincere desire to become a national best practice for how to close the opportunity gap.”

Thesing-Ritter said the Blugold Beginnings program has been a part of the Eau Claire campus for eight years, and since then it has expanded to include 75 students in the Blugold Beginnings Learning Community and nearly 200 mentors serving over 400 children in the surrounding schools.

The pre-college portion of the program allows college students to interact with students from fifth grade through high school, Thesing-Ritter said. Through activities such as tutoring, mentoring and summer camps, young students are taught about college life to promote the idea college is attainable.

Crystal Vang, the elementary program coordinator of Blugold Beginnings, said hiring mentors of different backgrounds and promoting inclusion and representativeness have also been beneficial for elementary students in the area.

“The minority population in Eau Claire is small,” Vang said, “but when you have mentors that are like you — the same race or the same culture — then it’s easier for you to believe that ‘yeah, there is a chance for me to go to college.’”

In addition, Blugold Beginnings has worked toward creating a successful post-secondary experience for multicultural, first-generation and economically disadvantaged students.

Students within the Blugold Beginnings Learning Community are provided with a number of resources, Thesing-Ritter said, including scholarships, travel immersion experiences, a college mentor and monthly meetings with their cohorts.

By empowering more students of underrepresented populations to attend college, she said their program will continue to work toward the campus goal of becoming more diverse.

“Our work is strategically designed to support the campus’s mission of achieving 20 percent students of color and closing the opportunity gap for students of color,” Thesing-Ritter said.

Whisper Kappus-McDew, a junior liberal studies student with an emphasis in African American studies, critical race and Teaching English as a Foreign Language, said Blugold Beginnings is a necessary part of the Eau Claire campus because it provides the services for students to smoothly transition from high school to college.

There aren’t many organizations like Blugold Beginnings on campus, Kappus-McDew said, which provide low-income or first-generation students with the tools and opportunities they need to be successful during their college career.

Because of her involvement with Blugold Beginnings, Kappus-McDew said she was able to discover her passions and what she wanted to accomplish following graduation.

“My goal is to be a mentor to students of color and help guide them through their years,” Kappus-McDew said. “Blugold Beginnings gave me the best transition from high school to college and I want to give that experience back.”