PEOPLE program honored with Regents’ Diversity Award

Feb. 4, 2014

by Susannah Brooks

The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) program is the recipient of the sixth annual Regents' Diversity Award for team excellence, presented by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents.

Jacqueline DeWalt

Jacqueline DeWalt

The awards program was established by the board to recognize and support individuals and programs in the UW System that foster access and success in university life for historically underrepresented populations.

"This award reflects the power of partnerships in improving the life chances of underserved youth from Wisconsin; nothing that we do is separate," says Jacqueline DeWalt, executive director of the PEOPLE Program.

"We've been in partnership at the student level with parents, public schools, communities, members and organizations; we've had a partnership with faculty and staff across the UW-Madison campus," she adds. "Finally, we've partnered with donors such as AT&T, Target and Great Lakes Higher Education to receive crucial support over the years. Ultimately, these efforts improve the pool of well-qualified candidates for our workforce."

Nationwide, statistics continue to show that a disproportionately low percentage of students of color and low-income students enroll in and graduate from college, while numerous studies have demonstrated enrollment and graduation rates can be increased through pre-college programs.

The PEOPLE program, part of UW-Madison's Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement, is considered one of the most comprehensive talent-development diversity scholarship pipelines for underrepresented, economically disadvantaged and first-generation students in the country.

Under the leadership of DeWalt and assistant directors Carl Wesley Jr. and Goodson Vue, the PEOPLE program has achieved outcomes that include a 95 percent enrollment rate into institutions of higher education for pre-college program participants and a 71 percent six-year graduation rate for those who are accepted into UW-Madison.

“This award reflects the power of partnerships in improving the life chances of underserved youth from Wisconsin; nothing that we do is separate.”

Jacqueline DeWalt

Since the program's inception in 1999, participation has grown from 66 Milwaukee high school students to over 1,300 students from second grade through the senior year of college. Students hail from all across the state, including all federally recognized Native American tribes in Wisconsin.

Pre-college activities include K-12 student exposure to potential college majors and career options, afterschool tutoring services in core areas, informal mentoring, college preparation services and Family Leadership Councils to provide families with the tools and knowledge necessary to support their children's educational experiences. College-level activities include a summer bridge program, which offers orientation, advising and other support.

"The individuals and programs we selected for this year's Regents' Diversity Awards are creating a ripple effect of opportunity for historically underrepresented student populations," says Regent John Drew, who chaired the special regents' committee to determine the winners. "It's an honor to recognize their unwavering commitment to helping all students realize their full potential, contribute their talents, and inspire future generations."

The winners will be honored at an awards ceremony on Friday, Feb. 7 at Union South, in conjunction with the Board of Regents meeting. Each winner will receive funding to support professional development or to continue the program being honored.

Other members of the award's selection committee included Regents Tracy Hribar, Edmund Manydeeds, and José Vásquez.