Wallin Education Partners provides big boost to low-income students

Wallin Education Partners executive director Susan King said the goal of the program's advising support is to prepare students for real life challenges and promote greater independence.
Photo By: Dami Gilbert
Yer Moua faced a harsh reality during her first semester at Carleton College, but came to mature as a student thanks to Wallin Partners Education and its advisory support.
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"I want students to get over the fear of asking a question and being told they are wrong. I want them to be like, ‘OK, so that’s what you mean.’ Become OK with being wrong. In life, whether you want to call them setbacks or failures, that’s what life is about.”

Most colleges offer a plethora of resources to ensure student success. But there’s no individually tailored road map pointing each student in the direction of ultimate personal success.

In college, you’re on your own. Navigating the way is hard for anyone, but can be especially difficult for first-generation students. Yer Moua faced this harsh reality during her first semester at Carleton College in Northfield.

Her parents, who immigrated to the United States from Thailand in 1991, never went to college. While one of her five older brothers helped to fill out the application paperwork, once she got to college, Moua was left to her own devices.

Initially a math major, the 20-year-old struggled in her classes and her GPA began to slip.

“I took math classes. No fun at all. I didn’t do so well … I got put on probation for a while,” she said.

Probation is a horrifying experience for any student—especially one who is going to college with the help of a $4,000 scholarship from Wallin Education Partners. With her scholarship on the line, Moua was fortunate to get support from Aloida Zaragoza—a Wallin advisor who turned Moua’s college experience around during her second semester.

Zarazoga taught Moua critical things like the importance of spending more time on campus instead of going home, talking to and getting to know professors and asking questions in class.

“First step would be: First day of class go to your professor’s office and introduce yourself. (Zarazoga) said if you do that then your professor will be like, ‘Oh, this student made the effort to come and I know who she is,’” Moua said. “Second step would be: Asking questions in class—questions easy as, ‘Professor, can you repeat that?’”

Wallin Education Partners awards 120-150 renewable $4,000 scholarships to high-performing, low-income students each year. But that’s just the start of support students get.

“In many other organizations, the money is the end of the relationship, which isn’t necessarily bad. But here, it is the beginning of our relationship,” executive director Susan King said.

Each scholar is assigned an advisor that works to help students utilize on-campus resources and build autonomy in a college setting. The students come from different experiences and backgrounds, but according to Zarazoga, one thing they all have in common is the ability to learn.

She has an intentional approach to teaching the basic, yet crucial, skill of asking great questions.

“We believe we’re shy, we believe we’re not confident—those are learned behaviors. Anyone can learn them,” Zarazoga said. “I want students to get over the fear of asking a question and being told they are wrong. I want them to be like, ‘OK, so that’s what you mean.’ Become OK with being wrong. In life, whether you want to call them setbacks or failures, that’s what life is about.”

The ultimate goal of the advising support is to increase graduation rates and subsequently gain “a return on our investment,” King said.

Since Winston Wallin, the former CEO of Pillsbury and Medtronic, started his namesake organization 22 years ago at Minneapolis South High School, it has expanded to serve graduates of 27 Twin Cities high schools. Wallin, a World War II veteran, received a debt-free education because of the G.I. Bill.

“The G.I. Bill allowed him to get a college education, and he wanted that to happen for others,” King said.

She is pleased with the 89 percent six-year graduation rate of Wallin alumni, nearly 30 percent higher than the rate of all Minnesotans.

Moua, who struggled during her first semester partly due to her original Wallin advisor being absent on maternity leave, has made great progress academically and socially since being paired with Zarazoga. Realizing math is not the right path for her, Moua is off academic probation and successfully working toward her degree as a psychology major. She hopes to one day earn her master’s degree.

“There are a lot of resources on campus, but the Wallin advisors are there to push you forward,” she said. “(Zarazoga) pushed me towards things that I wouldn’t have done by myself.”


WHO CAN APPLY? Seniors at one of 27 partner high schools with an unweighted GPA of 3.0 or higher and a composite ACT score of 19 or higher. Student’s family must have a family taxable income of $75,000 or less. Applicants must apply to an eligible college or university.

HOW MUCH WILL I GET? $4,000 each year for four years

WHEN CAN I APPLY? Application for the 2014-2015 school year opens in December

HOW DO I APPLY? Complete the online application at www.wallinpartners.org/apply and submit all required academic and financial documents

QUESTIONS? Call (952) 345-1920