Wyo Youth ChalleNGe cadets find success in college

By 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
Public Affairs Specialist
Wyoming National Guard

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A partnership between Eastern Wyoming College and the Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe Program evolved into an effort by both schools to help the at-risk students and high school dropouts at ChalleNGe find success after graduation, said Dee Ludwig, EWC’s vice president for learning.

ChalleNGe, a voluntary program for teenagers wanting to work toward a diploma, partnered with EWC in 2011 to offer advanced cadets a chance to experience college.

“I wanted to be able to provide a challenging educational arena for cadets who are ready for college level coursework,” said Don Smith, the director of the Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe Program. “The cadets have benefited by having a more diverse learning environment which allows for personal growth educationally along a much broader spectrum of learning.”

Those initial nine cadets from ChalleNGe’s Class 11 and 12, and the bridges built during their classes, turned into a relationship which allows the community-oriented college to reach out to potential students who are learning to be community minded.

“It’s a 180-degree about face from beginning to end,” said Diane McQueen, the college’s Adult Based Education Program director, of the cadets she meets.

“It is absolutely what we should be doing,” said Ludwig.

ChalleNGe completed the initial testing of Class 13 cadets Jan. 25 to determine if they qualify for courses at EWC this semester. Smith said once the results are in and the students’ interests are gauged, ChalleNGe will approach the college to discuss what courses and programs are available and best meet the needs of the students.

With ChalleNGe’s campus at the Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center less than an hour from EWC’s Torrington campus, a multitude of programs and opportunities are available.

“Our cadets spend a day on the college campus, and the college staff provides a great deal of information on every aspect of college life, from registration, to financial aid, to dormitory life and the classroom experience,” said Smith of the students’ introduction EWC.

Cadets in classes 11 and 12 who were enrolled in the college had differing experiences. Class 11 took courses at the campus involving basic computer knowledge, improving study habits and a few technical courses. Their course options were limited due to the timing between the start of EWC’s spring semester and the start of the ChalleNGe course.

Class 12 had three who enrolled in degree seeking courses like biology, introduction to business and introduction to corrections, said Theresa Smith, recruiting, mentoring and placement coordinator for ChalleNGe. Those courses were web-based.

“The online coursework offers additional flexibility and versatility that lends well to the environment at WYCP,” said Smith. “Our cadets experience a very active and busy lifestyle while enrolled at WYCP, and sometimes there are requirements within the program that cannot accommodate attending classes at the community college.”

The three cadets who enrolled in the online courses were not the only beneficiaries of the partnership with EWC.

McQueen said she worked out scholarships with the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services to test cadets for the National Career Readiness Certificate. The certificate is a way to recognize the ability levels for skills job applicants possess. Ten cadets in Class 12 earned a certificate.

“I would like to see (the cadets) work toward a career readiness certificate along with a GED,” Ludwig said. “The career readiness certificate is the future and I would like to see them have that.”

The problem is funding. There is a cost for taking the certification course, just as there is a cost for taking the GED exam. EWC and ChalleNGe both said they are working to find scholarships and ways to help the cadets, many of whom don’t have ways to pay out of their own pockets. Smith said since he has not had a chance to speak to EWC about the specifics of the current class of cadets, he cannot speak to the scholarship requirements yet.

The outreach program to ChalleNGe is also reaping benefits in continuing education. Not all cadets are able to pass the GED exam or complete their high school diplomas during the in-residence portion of the program.

“Even if the kids aren’t successful getting their GEDs in the program, they’re going out and getting it from somewhere else,” McQueen said. She said she has at least one student from Class 11 enrolled in a GED program through EWC’s Lusk outreach.

“We’ve seen them in welding and we’ve seen them in cosmetology,” Ludwig said of former ChalleNGe cadets who enrolled in college. She said she’s also found two former ChalleNGe-EWC students who enrolled in other Wyoming community colleges; Western Wyoming Community College, in Rock Springs, and Central Wyoming College, in Riverton.

“We have had some cadets that have continued with their college work post graduation from WYCP and they are doing well at it,” said Smith. “There are a few who did not continue, but have told us that they intend to return to college.”

Smith said he’s hopeful the introduction to college will generate interest in gaining a degree or vocational certification. “A bigger core group of college bound cadets will allow for better peer support, and it will be helpful to have greater numbers from an administrative standpoint.”

EWC also became the last place many of the cadets see as ChalleNGe cadets. The campus hosted the previous two graduations, something Ludwig said she is proud to be a part of.

“There are so many tears in that audience,” Ludwig said of the reactions parents have watching their children graduate.

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