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First-generation students at UW-Whitewater want to connect others to services


Dontrey Ewing never thought he would be going to college.

No one in his family had gone, he said.

But in high school he connected with a program that helped him find his way to a campus.

Neither of Isabella Ertel’s parents went to college, but when a counselor brought the idea to her attention during her junior year in high school, she said she saw a path.

Cherri Stafford knew from age 6 she wanted to be an animal doctor. She said watching her mom’s persistence in taking care of her and her eight siblings in Whitewater helped her become who she is today.

The three are UW-Whitewater first-generation students, defined by the university as students whose parents don’t have four-year college or university degrees.

Looking around campus in 2009, they would have seen fewer students like them. The first-generation student population was only 14.5 percent of UW-Whitewater undergraduates eight years ago.

In 2017, nearly half—40.1 percent—of undergraduate students are first generation.

The students said the school has resources to help first-generation students acclimate to campus, but they see some students not accessing the services that would help them.

So they’re stepping in.

Now that they are at UW-W, some first-generation students have turned back to work with others from similar backgrounds.

“If it wasn’t for the program, I probably wouldn’t have came to college myself,” Ewing said. “It’s a lot of students that I visit who are in the same position. And they thank me all the time, and they tell me if it wasn’t for me coming, they don’t know if they would have ever thought about going to college.

“It’s so rewarding to hear them say that,” he said.

Getting to college

One day when Ewing was running passes from the Beloit Memorial High School counselor’s office, he ran into Pamela Warren.

Warren was a recruiter with Talent Search, a program for low-income students to put them on a path to college, Ewing said. The program allowed students to prepare for the ACT and provided a summer option to bring students to campus.

“Everyone was very excited,” when Ewing received his acceptance letter at UW-W, he said.

Similarly for Ertel, a counselor told her she should start thinking about college.

The Sheboygan native said the process of searching for and applying to colleges was done primarily on her own.

“It was really kind of difficult,” she said.

She didn’t feel any pressure from her parents, something she suspected students with parents who hold college degrees would feel in their college searches.

“Of course I had support at home, but, like, if I decided to drop out of college, my parents probably wouldn’t be upset,” Ertel said. “I think it was the way they saw it as something extra that I wanted to do to make my life a little better.”

Stafford said her mom started college but didn’t graduate. So she still was able to help her daughter during the application process to the school right across the street.

But Stafford classified herself as an independent person. She’s on the pre-med track to becoming the veterinarian she has dreamed of being since she was 6 years old.

“I kind of just figured it out on my own,” she said of getting to college.

The extent to which people use assistance in getting to college varies, but first-generation students lack the institutional knowledge that comes from moving through the process with someone who has done it before.

College is an adjustment for every new student, but first-generation students said they face unfamiliar difficulties when they arrive on campus.

‘Figure it out together’

As someone who saw first-hand how a program could help him get to college, Ewing decided to immediately work for the same cause.

The summer after he graduated high school, Ewing said he started working for the Upward Bound program at UW-W.

Now, the senior studying sociology and human resource management spends two days a week going to two different high schools in Milwaukee to advise students and help them reach college.

Ewing thought back to his college search mistakes—he said he didn’t take advantage of scholarships, for example—and said he doesn’t want others to fall into similar situations.

Once she was on campus, Ertel said it was hard for her to find resources. She put off getting involved in extra-curricular activities.

Last year, the senior public relations major joined others in creating First Warhawks in Flight, a student organization for first-generation students that directs them to services.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for first-generation students to come and get to know people that are similar to them and have a similar background as them,” Ertel said. “It was kind of like, there’s so many other students that are first generation that could really benefit from having a group or a student organization that can help them along the way.”

Stafford said college is a major transition for any student, but UW-W does a good job of being considerate of all types of students.

“We’re all trying to figure it out together,” the junior said.

Jeff Angileri, an assistant university spokesman, cited some of the university’s resources he said helps first-generation students.

The Mary Poppe Chrisman Success Center provided free tutoring services, Angileri said in an email. The McNair Scholars program aims to bring underrepresented students into graduate-level education.

Pathway for Success is an academic support program for students at risk of failing, Angileri said. Because many of the participants are first-generation students, Angileri said, the program requires study sessions, group meetings and contacts with an adviser.

“The goal is to help students transition into the university environment, develop self-responsibility and motivate them to learn,” he said in an email.

Ewing said the main issue isn’t the amount of resources available to help first-generation students, but rather it’s making sure people are connected with those trying to help them.

If first-generation students don’t connect with the resources, Ewing said, some may fall off the map. And while some students can afford an unpaid internship in New York, Ewing said he needs to find something local that pays.

Ewing said first-generation students may also be nervous in the classroom and embarrassed to ask questions for fear of seeming ignorant.

“A lot of first-generation students come into school, and some don’t make it past the first or second semester of school,” Ewing said. “It’s not because they don’t have the knowledge or skills to do the work. It’s because they’re usually afraid to speak up.”

He said speaking up could have helped him, but he was afraid of seeming dumb.

Ewing originally started at UW-W in 2007, but at one point he was dismissed and lost financial aid, he said. He had to pay for school himself.

“Had I spoke up and talked to professors and talked to staff, I probably could have got the resources that I needed, but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to talk to them because they didn’t really talk to me,” he said.

“So if more people took the time to actually talk to the students and get to actually know them, we could probably have more first-generation students staying around,” he said.

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Saying goodbye: After 44 years, St. Patrick's bingo is ending


Bernice Schwab helped get bingo started in 1973.

More than four decades later, Schwab attended the last night of bingo at St. Patrick School with her grandchildren.

“Oh, I’ve made so many friends here,” Schwab said wistfully.

It wasn’t an easy night for many people. Most were mourning the loss of the community connections.

Betty Sauerbrei has been coming to bingo for 32 years.

“I don’t know what the heck I’m going to do on Saturday night,” Sauerbrei said. “I have a lot of friends here. I don’t know when I’m going to see them.”

While other organizations might host bingo games, St. Patrick had a particular feel. The phrase, “We were like a family” came up a lot.

Michelle Denio said it was the only place you could come with a child. Kids aren’t allowed to play bingo until they are 10, but they were always welcome.

Denio pointed out the regulars.

“That couple drive from Monroe,” Denio said. “They come even if there’s 6 feet of snow on the ground.”

Others came from Fort Atkinson, Edgerton and from the rural towns around Janesville.

Two, sometimes three generations of families sat together.

Deborah Morrison, who has been playing for about 20 years, said the food and the hospitality were unbeatable.

Morrison and others said they also felt the play was fair.

“At some places they’ll divide the pot in half if not enough people show up,” Morrison said. “They never do that here.”

On Saturday, the crowd filled the cafeteria, a room adjacent to it and the auditorium above the cafeteria. When someone in the auditorium had a bingo, everyone would stomp on the floor so the caller in the cafeteria would know.

Changes in school and church policies have meant the the end of bingo, said Diann Wurtz, a volunteer.

Bingo was started in 1973 as a way to keep the school open, Schwab said.

The priest at the time sent a letter to the parishioners saying the school would have to close. Without the sisters, it would be impossible to pay for teachers, staff and all the building expenses.

A group of parishioners decided that bingo would help keep the school afloat. Parents were also charged tuition.

Parents and parishioners committed their Saturdays to the event. Although the first game didn’t start until 5:30 p.m., people had to come several hours in advance to set up the kitchen and sell tickets. Then there was cleanup after the last round at 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday, some of those parishioners were still there and still volunteering.

Schwab has had health issues that meant she could no longer volunteer. But her husband Ben was still volunteering.

Why didn’t they just send parish kids to one of the other parochial schools in Janesville? Why give up all those Saturday nights?

“It was our parish, and they belonged in our own school,” Schwab said.

Last year, bingo made about $91,000 for the parish, Wurtz said. Concessions brought in an estimated $11,000, she said. All the money went into the parish’s general fund.

The end of bingo does not mean the end of the school, said St. Patrick School Principal Nicole May.

May said the bingo revenue wouldn’t “make or break the school.”

She stressed she didn’t want to “slight the bingo committee” or downplay the contributions it has made to the school over the past four decades. Now, however, the school will be looking for new ways to save—and raise—money, she said.

About a dozen students attend the St. Patrick pre-kindergarten program. State money supports that program.

St. Patrick’s School has between nine and 11 students in grades K to 8th. That’s down from about 70 last year. Those students pay tuition and the remaining expenses are paid for out of parish funds and through fundraising.



Woman helps injured snowy owl

Raptor rehabilitator Dianne Moller knows how hard it is to give a snowy owl a bath. “A rehabber’s job is not as glamorous as many people think,” she said, days after cleaning manure from the feathers of a young bird. The owl ended up in a manure pit at a farm near Janesville, and the property owners called Moller for help. She is the founder of Hoo’s Woods Raptor Center of Milton. Today, Moller is optimistic “Mr. Clean,” as she named the owl, will be strong enough to make his journey back to the Arctic when released.

Legislature passed 135 laws in 2017

Cheese is Wisconsin’s official dairy product, but cheese was not the dairy state’s official dairy product until Act 8 passed June 1. The act was one of 135 pieces of legislation passed in Wisconsin in 2017, according to the state Legislature website. Among the 135, acts pertaining to hunting, schools and prescription drugs were most common.


Hoax call ends in man's death

Police in Los Angeles have arrested a man they suspect made a hoax emergency call that resulted in a SWAT police officer fatally shooting a man at the door of his own home in Kansas, law enforcement officials said Saturday. Wichita Deputy Police Chief Troy Livingston on Friday characterized the hoax call as "swatting" in which a "prankster" called 911 with a fake story about a shooting and kidnapping to draw a SWAT team to the victim's address.

Anger, dejection grows as only half of Puerto Rico has power

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico

The revelation that more than 660,000 power customers across Puerto Rico still lack electricity more than three months after Hurricane Maria has sparked outrage, surprise and resignation among some islanders who accuse officials of mismanaging their response to the Category 4 storm.

It’s the first time the government of the U.S. territory has provided that statistic, which was released as authorities warned that a lot of work remains and that crews were still finding unexpected damage after Maria hit on Sept. 20 with winds of up to 154 mph, knocking power out to the entire island. Officials said 55 percent of Puerto Rico’s nearly 1.5 million customers have power.

“It’s just extraordinary that it is still so far away from being 100 percent recovered,” said Susan Tierney, a senior adviser for Denver-based consulting company Analysis Group who testified before a U.S. Senate committee on efforts to restore power in Puerto Rico. “I’m not aware of any time in recent decades since the U.S. has electrified the entire economy that there has been an outage of this magnitude.”

One of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities remains entirely without power, and it’s unclear when some electricity will be restored to the central mountain town of Ciales. Crews this week restored power for the first time to parts of the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa, which received the first hit from Maria.

Among those still in the dark is Christian Pagan, 58, who lives near the capital of San Juan and said it was the government’s fault that a large number of people still don’t have power.

“Everybody saw that the devastation was great, but I don’t understand why they’re trying to sell people something that’s not real,” he said of the explanations the government has provided as to why power has not been fully restored. “The first month was lost to bureaucracy and an uncoordinated reaction.”

He especially criticized the power company’s former director, Ricardo Ramos, who resigned in late October after signing a $300 million contract for a Montana-based company that had only two full-time employees when the storm hit. Ramos also had said that he did not activate mutual-aid agreements with power companies in the U.S. mainland in part because there was no way to communicate with them.

“That’s the kind of help you ask for three days before the hurricane,” Pagan said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said that power will likely be restored to all of Puerto Rico by May, noting that reconnection efforts have been slow-going at times in part because of the island’s rough terrain, lack of supplies and an aging infrastructure that was not maintained given the island’s 11-year recession.

Some believe it might take even longer, especially those living in central mountain towns like Eileen Cheverez, a 48-year-old respiratory therapist from Morovis. Power was restored last weekend to homes around her, but she’s still waiting for crews to set up a key cable so she can have lights.

“It’s like a lack of respect. I know the damage was great, especially in the mountains, but I feel they’ve taken too long,” she said, adding that seeing homes lit up around her gives her some hope amid the frustration.

It is not yet known what percentage of businesses and homes now have electricity. Power company spokesman Geraldo Quinones told The Associated Press that officials don’t have that data yet because the optical fiber that helps provide that and other information was destroyed by the hurricane.

Fredyson Martinez, vice president of a union that represents Puerto Rico power company workers, told the AP that the company should have provided the number of customers without power a while ago, adding that officials had other ways of obtaining the data. He also said a recent study by local engineers found that 90 percent of industries and 75 percent of businesses already have power, meaning residential areas are disproportionately in the dark.

Amarilis Irizarry, a 38-year-old graphic designer, lives in one of those areas. Every day, she drives underneath an electric post that fell across the road to her apartment in Trujillo alto, hoping it won’t finish falling on her car and kill her and her young son.

“This is horrible,” she said. “I didn’t think it would take so long...To have only half of Puerto Rico with power three months after the hurricane, that’s worrisome.”

Government officials said nearly 14,000 poles already have been shipped to Puerto Rico, and that another 7,000 will arrive in upcoming days. In addition, some 3,500 workers are trying to restore power across the island, with many working through the holidays.

“We know that the priority of our clients is to know when they will receive the power service again,” said Justo Gonzalez, the power company’s interim director. “Maria severely impacted most of our energy infrastructure.”

Officials said Puerto Rico has 2,400 miles of transmission lines, 30,000 miles of distribution lines and 342 substations that suffered substantial damage during the hurricane.

Carlos Torres, who is overseeing power restoration efforts, said that crews are still finding unexpected damage including what he called severely impacted substations.

“We will not stop working until every person and business has their lights back on,” he said.