Ten Education for Service Scholars Celebrate Commencement at BVU

(story by Tim Gallagher)

Rocio Flores-Gonzales has posed for three special photos at Buena Vista University’s Victory Bell. The first occurred when she was a toddler. The second came four years ago when she joined nine fellow BVU freshmen in the landmark Clausen Family Education for Service Scholars (EFS) initiative.

The latest opportunity came on Saturday, May 7, when Flores-Gonzales joined those same nine peers in another group photo, as all ten members of BVU’s first EFS cohort earned their diplomas.

The Clausen Family Education for Service Scholars program offers free tuition for first-generation college students from Buena Vista County. Tuition for these students is offered for their commitment to complete 300 hours of service work in the community each year. EFS students have assisted teachers in the local schools. They’ve served at Storm Lake Public Library, worked at TLC Animal Shelter, assisted at COVID-19 vaccine clinics, and more.

“I was already pretty service oriented when I came to BVU,” says Flores-Gonzales. “Through my EFS service, my understanding of service and volunteerism changed a lot. For me—and for all of us—we began and continued thinking about social issues surrounding the places we served. We worked to get to know the people served by those organizations.”

Flores-Gonzales served Methodist Manor Retirement Community for two years before transitioning during the pandemic to spend the bulk of her time aiding staff and clients at Upper Des Moines Opportunity, Inc. (UDMO). Should she remain in Buena Vista County following graduation, Flores-Gonzales, a strategic public relations major, indicates she’ll continue to seek volunteer opportunities with UDMO.

“There’s a stigma surrounding issues like food insecurity and energy assistance, programs Upper Des Moines Opportunity assists with,” she says. “A bit of me had that stigma too. And then I began serving the organization and got to know clients in need of assistance. Many of them are working jobs. There are so many who continue to face a financial strain because of factors related to COVID-19.”

Matthew Marroquin, an Education for Service Scholar who studied theater, spent a portion of his service commitment coaching speech and drama at St. Mary’s High School in Storm Lake. That work with the greater community provided a connection to a job he secured this spring, serving as lead teacher in a Shakespeare program for fourth graders in an underserved area of Brooklyn, N.Y.

“The Education for Service Scholarship is how I got into coaching speech,” says Marroquin, who hails from Storm Lake. “I’m going to make a summer theater curriculum for the Boys & Girls Club, too.”

BVU Professor of Digital Media Dr. Andrea Frantz met the first cohort of EFS students in the fall of 2018. She stayed with them the following four years.

“She was our EFS mother,” Marroquin says. “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’s becoming more necessary to get through,” Frantz says. “That issue was compounded dramatically during the pandemic. National statistics will show you that these 10 shouldn’t have graduated together. They faced challenges in adjusting to college; they stayed focused, managed to answer financial aid questions, navigated all the social components like other college students, met their academic requirements and still completed service in their community.

“The support system we built in through the Education for Service Scholars program was amazing,” Frantz concludes. “Graduation came with lots of hard work on their part, but they did it. All ten of them.”

Flores-Gonzales recalls a time when her parents, immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico, drove through campus some 19 years ago. Her mother and father put Flores-Gonzales and her older brother at the Victory Bell for a photo.

“My mom turned to my dad and said she’d love for one of us to study at Buena Vista,” she remembers. “It was just a dream for my mom.”

Thanks to this unique scholarship program, the dream came true. That was evident on Saturday following the group photo, the Commencement ceremony, and a graduation party at the city park in Rembrandt, where Flores-Gonzales and her parents reside.

“I always wanted to come to BVU because of the proximity to home,” she says. “Thanks to the EFS program, I got there and realized a dream. It’s also big for my parents as they came here seeking a better life. It gave them a real sense of accomplishment.”

The Clausen Family Education for Service Scholars who started as BVU freshman in 2018, then graduated in 2022 are listed along 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, business; Matthew Marroquin, theater; Diana Pastrana, biology; Nathan Pedersen, business; and Tuan Truong, corporate math.

(Pictured above : The 2022 Buena Vista University graduates in 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. The second row, from left: Matthew Marroquin, Tuan Truong, and Cory Goodwin)

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