Being the first in her family to leave her small hometown for college changed not only the life of Marlene Rosenboom '09, but the lives of many other young people inspired by her story.
It is a story that echoes through-out Texas and across the nation, highlighting the challenges and, at times, fears that can make the dream of higher education seem attainable for disadvantaged students.
For Rosenboom, support through a cluster of federal college prepared-ness programs along with the dedicated staff at UTSA's Institute for P-20 Initiatives, turned a once hesitant family into hometown cheerleaders for the university experience.
Rosenboom's mother now tells their story to all those interested, including in her job as manager at an Eagle Pass Independent School District cafeteria. "I motivate my coworkers to be part of their children's dreams," Magdalena Fernandez Zacarias said. "I tell them to let them go, but visit often, and to encourage them to not give up when things get hard or when they feel homesick."
But now, families like Rosen-boom's and the universities they attend are facing a harsh reality. Re-cent proposed budget cuts could see a combined $193 million slashed from the Federal TRiO Programs (TRiO) and the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Pro-grams (GEAR UP) initiative. TRiO includes Upward Bound, Talent Search, the McNair Scholars Program, and Student Support Services (SSS)-the first two programs help high school students with the college application processes, financial aid and enrollment questions, while McNair helps students with research and post graduate degrees. SSS is charged with sustaining guidance and tutoring for students already in college.
"In UTSA alone, the TRiO programs serve more than 2,000 middle school, high school students and college under-graduates," said Darrell C. Balderrama, director of P-20 Programs. "These pro-grams are much more than federal funds, they provide mentors and tutors, which can answer questions for students that can easily get discouraged when faced with loads of paperwork."
Since the mid-1960's, the Federal TRiO Programs have helped millions of disadvantaged students attend college.
At UTSA, the Institute for P-20 Initiatives leads a total of 24 college-prep programs, including TRiO and GEAR UP. Critics, as well as supporters of the budget changes have questioned the effectiveness of the programs because they lack in-depth evaluations. Some even say that these programs do not have a measurable impact on the rate of college enrollment. Criticism notwithstanding, the Education Department recently released a report that showed GEAR UP students enrolled in college at a 32 percent higher rate than other underprivileged students nationwide.
"Stories like Marlene's are encouraging, and remind me of the resilience we must continue to have through these threatening budget cuts," said Balderrama.
Following Trump's education budget announcements, Balderrama traveled to D.C. with a small delegation from the San Antonio area. Representatives from UTSA, Trinity University, Communities in Schools and several UTSA McNair students met with elected officials and shared their personal experiences. The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program is part of TRiO and prepares undergraduate students for doctoral studies through research.
In addition, UTSA McNair students delivered more than 60 letters to U.S. senators. Letters contained personal stories about the impact TRiO had in their lives.
The delegation had success in a short amount of time-Texas representatives William Hurd and Joaquin Castro joined the TRiO caucus, a bipartisan congressional group that supports college-prep programs.
But the numbers and percentages can only tell one part of story; the rest is written in the lives of those directly impacted by these programs.
"TRiO staff held my hand and got me to attend college and graduate from UTSA," Rosenboom said. "My counselors assisted me with things that my parents had no idea how to do- filling out applications, signing-up for SAT practice testing, and supporting me with fee payments."
Rosenboom grew up in an Eagle Pass subdivision, informally known as Southwood. This area had no more than 20 residences established, and out of these households, only three students had gone to college. Life in small border towns, and the pressure immigrant parents face, post real barriers for youth that want to attend college. Like many other families, her family was just trying to keep their heads above water.
During her senior year in high school, Federico Reyna, former pre-college advisor for UTSA TRiO and interim associate director of Upward Bound, gave Rosenboom's parents a private tour of the UTSA Main Campus. "Mr. Reyna was very kind and answered all of our questions," said Magdalena Fernandez Zacarias, Rosenboom's mother. "He eased the anxiety I was feeling for my daughter, as she was the first in our family to attend college."
After enrolling in the Educational Talent Search in middle school, Rosenboom was able to visit college campuses. Leaving her small world and seeing older classmates go to college boosted her confidence and helped her apply to UTSA. "If they can do it, I can too!" she said.
But UTSA is a three-hour drive from Southwood, and Rosenboom was going to be the first child to leave home and the first woman in the family to leave for a reason other than marriage. It was a tough transition for Rosenboom's father.
"I was worried about my daughter's safety" said Rafael Zacarias. "But during the private tour, Dr. Reyna reassured me that my daughter would be living on campus, that she was going to make friends, join student groups and that she could even get work study."
As a freshman at UTSA, Rosenboom got a part-time job with TRiO and assisted with its summer programs. In 2009, she earned a bachelor's degree in business administration, and later a master's degree in administration in organizational development from the University of the Incarnate Word. Today, she is the utility and project analyst for the Facilities Engineering and Project Management department at UTSA.
Rosenboom's story continues to have an impact. She still goes back to Eagle Pass schools and summer camps to share her experience with other youth.
"Watching my sister go to college inspired me to get my B.A. in Special Education for K-12 graders," said Amabel Arellano, Rosenboom's sister. "Today, I am a teacher who wants all of her students to go to college. I tell them 'you're going to college, you can and will do better, there is help.'"
Rosenboom's younger brother also joined a TRiO program in 2008, and received a full scholarship to pursue an electrical engineering degree at UTSA in 2010.
"Stories like Rosenboom's show the importance of college-prep programs," Balderrama said. Adding that the UTSA Institute for P-20 Initiatives is committed to fighting back against financial setbacks from proposed budget cuts.
"TRiO and GEAR UP students are the next generation of researchers, doc-tors, and professionals of this country," Balderrama said. "We must not let these students down."
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