John Deere grant to support college access and readiness for Waterloo youth

John Deere grant to support college access and readiness for Waterloo youth

A $25,000 grant from John Deere will bolster the University of Northern Iowa’s efforts to increase access to higher education for Waterloo students. 

The grant will support the Discover the Dream program, a partnership between Waterloo Community Schools and UNI designed to give students from low-income, first-generation families the tools they need to be successful in college. John Deere funding will support a graduate student assistant to help coordinate the program.

Discover the Dream follows students from as early as fifth grade through their senior year in high school, providing a range of leadership development and college readiness activities, as well as mentorship from professionals. Students participate in college lectures, tours, academic presentations and lab activities, and attend extra-curricular events such as performances at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center or athletic events in the UNI-Dome. 

Those who complete the program and meet UNI admission requirements will earn four years of tuition at the university.

“This funding is an incredibly important investment from John Deere, and will help bring dreams to fruition,” said Gwenne Berry, assistant to the president and chief diversity officer at UNI. “It also will assist us specifically in growing this program so that more low-income, first-generation students in our community can learn about higher education in general and UNI in particular.  We are grateful to John Deere and its commitment to our community. What they’ve offered will help immensely.”  

John Deere’s support expands on a decades-long partnership between the company and the university to enhance quality of life and educational opportunities in the Cedar Valley. The grant funding is a part of John Deere’s commitment to invest $200 million over the next 10 years to support families and youths who live, work and learn in John Deere's home communities. 

“Discover the Dream aligns with John Deere’s higher purpose: We run so life can leap forward. What a meaningful way for John Deere to demonstrate this principle by making this commitment to families and youth in our home community,” said Lynette Telleen, John Deere Foundry operations manager. “This program provides an amazing opportunity to impact local students allowing them to make their own leap forward for personal growth and educational development.”

Launched in 2017, Discover the Dream now includes 64 enrolled students from the Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence, Highland Elementary, Lincoln Elementary and Poyner Elementary. Students typically enter Discover the Dream through the UNI Center for Urban Education’s (UNI-CUE) Fifth-Grade Leadership Academy, an intensive four-week summer program focused on academics and citizenship. Forty of the participants are of high-school age; the program’s inaugural cohort of students will be high-school seniors in the coming academic year. 

Through a partnership with UNI-CUE, Discover the Dream students also are enrolled in other TRIO programs, receiving academic counseling, tutoring and assistance with college admissions and financial aid.   

“What I feel especially good about is the community outreach piece and how this program supports that concept. UNI-CUE has a long, layered history of providing programs that work with first-generation, low-income families in our community. Discover the Dream is another example of UNI partnering with Waterloo,” said Robert Smith, UNI-CUE’s executive director.

The program receives high marks from the Waterloo school district as well. "Waterloo Schools is beyond excited to continue our partnership with UNI and John Deere as a part of the Discover the Dream program,” said Jared Smith, district superintendent. “This program has impacted numerous lives and will continue to serve underserved populations in our community at the highest of levels."

UNI President Mark Nook noted that programs like Discover the Dream and the university’s partnerships with UNI-CUE are important to making sure young people see higher education as a possibility for them. 

“As we move further into the 21st century it is becoming even more apparent that if we are to secure a bright future for our community that we have to do our part; we have to reach beyond our own walls to provide inspiration and hope to our talented young people,” Nook said. “This collaboration ensures the availability of educational opportunities that lead to all children being valued and, ultimately, contributing members of society." 

Those interested in more information about entering the program may contact Bethany Botchway, assistant director of UNI-CUE and coordinator of the Fifth-Grade Leadership Program, 319-433-4772.