(story by Tim Gallagher)
Rocio Flores-Gonzales posed for three special photos at the University of Buena Vista’s Victory Bell. The first happened when she was very young. The second came four years ago when she joined nine other BVU freshmen in the historic Clausen Family Education for Service Scholars (EFS) initiative.
The final opportunity came on Saturday, May 7, when Flores-Gonzales joined those same nine peers in another group photo, as the ten members of BVU’s first EFS cohort graduated.
The Clausen Family Education for Service Scholars program offers free tuition to first-generation students in Buena Vista County. Tuition for these students is offered for their commitment to complete 300 hours of community service work each year. EFS students helped teachers in local schools. They’ve served at the Storm Lake Public Library, worked at the TLC Animal Shelter, helped with COVID-19 vaccination clinics, and more.
“I was already quite service-oriented when I arrived at BVU,” says Flores-Gonzales. “Because of my EFS service, my understanding of service and volunteering has changed a lot. For me – and for all of us – we started and continued to think about the social issues surrounding the places we serve. We made an effort to get to know the people served by these organizations.
Flores-Gonzales served Methodist Manor Retirement Community for two years before transitioning during the pandemic to spend most of her time helping staff and clients at Upper Des Moines Opportunity, Inc. (UDMO). If she were to stay in Buena Vista County after graduation, Flores-Gonzales, a strategic public relations specialist, says she will continue to seek volunteer opportunities with UDMO.
“There’s a stigma around issues like food insecurity and energy assistance, programs that Upper Des Moines Opportunity helps with,” she says. “A bit of me had that stigma too. And then I started serving the organization and got to know customers who needed help. Many of them hold jobs. There are so many who continue to face financial hardship due to factors related to COVID-19. »
Matthew Marroquin, an Education for Service scholar who studied acting, spent part of his service commitment hosting speeches and plays at St. Mary’s High School in Storm Lake. This work with the greater community provided a connection to a job he landed this spring, as a lead teacher in a Shakespeare program for fourth graders in an underserved area of Brooklyn, NY.
“The Education for Service scholarship is how I got into coaching speech,” says Marroquin, a Storm Lake native. “I will also be doing a summer theater program for the Boys & Girls Club.”
BVU Professor of Digital Media Dr. Andrea Frantz met the first cohort of EFS students in the fall of 2018. She stayed with them for the next four years.
“It was our EFS mother,” says Marroquin. “She pushed us to do our best and challenged us to find solutions.”
“When first-generation students go to college, they don’t always have the built-in support system that is becoming increasingly necessary to succeed,” says Frantz. “This problem has been significantly exacerbated during the pandemic. National statistics will show you that these 10 should not have graduated together. They faced challenges adjusting to college; they stayed focused, successfully answered questions about financial aid, navigated all social components like other students, met their academic requirements, and still completed their service in their community.
“The support system we put in place through the Education for Service Scholars program was amazing,” concludes Frantz. “Graduation came with a lot of hard work on their part, but they made it. All ten.
Flores-Gonzales remembers a time when her parents, immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico, drove across campus about 19 years ago. His mother and father put Flores-Gonzales and his older brother at the Victory Bell for a photo.
“My mom turned to my dad and said she would like one of us to study at Buena Vista,” she recalls. “It was just a dream for my mother.”
Thanks to this unique scholarship program, the dream has come true. That was evident Saturday after the group photo, graduation ceremony and a graduation party at Rembrandt City Park, where Flores-Gonzales and her parents reside.
“I always wanted to come to BVU because of the proximity to my home,” she says. “Thanks to the EFS program, I got there and realized a dream. It’s also important for my parents because they came here looking for a better life. It gave them a real sense of accomplishment.
Clausen Family Education for Service Scholars who started as a BVU freshman in 2018 and then graduated in 2022 are listed with their major: Heidi Coronel, biology; Rocio Flores-Gonzales, strategic public relations; Cody Goodwin, environmental science; Cory Goodwin, criminal justice; Cody Holtgrewe, digital media; Karole Iraheta, trade; Matthieu Marroquin, theatre; Diana Pastrana, biology; Nathan Pedersen, business; and Tuan Truong, business mathematics.
(Above photo: Buena Vista University’s 2022 graduates of the Clausen Family Education for Service Scholars program include, front row from left: Karole Iraheta, Heidi Coronel, Diana Pastrana, Rocio Flores-Gonzales, Cody Holtgrewe , Nathan Pedersen and Cody Goodwin Second row, from left: Matthew Marroquin, Tuan Truong and Cory Goodwin)