Investing in the next generation of leaders

June 26, 2017 | GET MORE : Social Responsibility

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U.S. Bank-funded program provides pathways to higher education at Marquette University.

Heriberto "Eddie" Godina is ready to make a difference. 

Godina, a first-generation college student who just graduated from Marquette University with a degree in criminology and law studies, is pursuing volunteer corps opportunities for the next year before going back for a graduate degree with his sights set on serving in public office, working in immigration law or starting a nonprofit to help refugees find housing. 

Godina graduated as a member of MU's Urban Scholars Program, which aims to recruit, retain and graduate first-generation college students with the goal of developing the next generation of leaders. Over the past decade, the program has supported 82 students, touting an 87 percent graduation rate well above the 71 percent average among national universities reported on annually by U.S. News & World Report. 

The program, which provides scholarships as well as mentoring and networking opportunities, is funded primarily by corporate donations. The U.S. Bank Foundation, for one, has donated $600,000 to the program over the past 11 years. The funding has ensured students have the financial resources and support systems to be successful at MU and beyond.

Creating economic opportunity by paving pathways to higher education is a core part of the Work pillar of U.S. Bank's Community Possible corporate social responsibility platform, which focuses the bank's giving and volunteerism on creating opportunities for Work, Home and Play in its communities.

"Urban Scholars is special to U.S. Bank," said Steve SaLoutos, Milwaukee-based executive vice president of consumer banking for U.S. Bank. "We have a 150-year history here in Milwaukee. A program like this which expands access, enriches diversity and shapes leaders is critical to our community’s future."

The program prepares the students to step into those community leadership roles; nearly half have served as executive leaders for campus organizations.

"There's a reason why each of these students has been chosen for Urban Scholars," said D.J. Todd, the program coordinator at MU, explaining that they look for a combination of strong academics and a dedication to service. "These students go into positions impacting the social issues that affect our community."

"[Students like Eddie] are the reason tomorrow will be better than today."

When envisioning his professional life after graduation, Godina draws inspiration from his past. He spent many of his high-school evenings huddled around the kitchen table helping navigate a permanent U.S. resident status application for his parents, who moved to the United States from Mexico nearly two decades earlier with the intention of creating a better life for their future kids.

When it came time for the honor-roll student to start looking at colleges, Godina's parents encouraged him to find the best fit, not necessarily the closest, despite his continued help with their resident status (which they wouldn't ultimately receive until Godina’s sophomore year at MU). "They said a college degree was so important for me to be able to get somewhere in life," he said. 

MU offering Godina a spot in the Urban Scholars Program helped ease his hesitation about the two-hour drive to Milwaukee from his parents in Chicago. Today, he credits friendships made through the program and at MU with having opened his eyes to other cultures.

"[Having a diverse campus] brings a whole new insight into people's points of view. It's exciting to talk to and learn from people who are not like you," he said. 

"It's taught me that the world is not black and white."

Pat Swanson is a member of U.S. Bank's communications team.