BVU's First Guardian Scholars to Graduate on May 25

BVU's First Guardian Scholars to Graduate on May 25

BVU's First Guardian Scholars to Graduate on May 25
Standing from left: Tim Speers, Craig Sandahl, Dez Broeg, Jessica Vega-Argueta, and Sue Speers. The Speers are Jessica's foster parents. Seated are Bill and Myrna Phelps.

In addition to receiving their bachelor's degrees, Dez Broeg and Jessica Vega-Argueta will have something else to be proud of when they walk across the stage at Buena Vista University's (BVU) commencement ceremonies on May 25.

Dez, an environmental science major from Mount Pleasant, and Jessica, a psychology major from Storm Lake, were the first students selected for BVU's Guardian Scholars program, which was established in 2010 by Craig W. Sandahl, a successful entrepreneur from Des Moines, and his wife, Elizabeth.

The program is designed for students who have aged out of the foster care system and want to get a college education. The program provides year-round housing for the students on the Storm Lake campus, summer employment on campus, a stipend for textbooks, as well as academic, social and spiritual support services.

Jessica, who was born in Honduras and has lived in Storm Lake for the past 11 years, entered the foster care system at 15 years of age. A single mother, she earned her associate's degree from Iowa Central Community College and transferred to BVU in 2011 to earn her bachelor's degree. She wants to go on to graduate school to earn a master's degree in social work.

In high school, Jessica had wanted to drop out and start working, but credits her foster parents with giving her the encouragement to complete high school. "Then I knew that I needed more than a high school degree, so decided to get my associate's degree, and then my bachelor's. And now I need to get my master's."

"All of my professors at BVU have been very understanding of my circumstances and very supportive," says Jessica. "They helped me reach my goal of graduating from BVU while being a full-time mom and having part-time jobs."

"I want to help out the children who are not wanted, who will fall through the 'cracks' in society," she says. "Statistically, I was supposed to be one of the kids that were not going to succeed, but I have proven society wrong. I want to give those kids hope and help them achieve their goals in life."

Dez says originally his primary motivation for going to college was to have the opportunity to be on the wrestling team. "Wrestling was the main reason that I kept my grades up and continued to stay in school and get my degree," says Dez, who was BVU's team captain for two years. "Through that I was able to find an academic major that I enjoyed."

"Looking back, it's hard to believe how far I have come in my education, as well as a person. The Guardian Scholars program has helped me on my journey," he says. "I was able to focus on things that were important to my education, rather than money."

Following graduation Dez will be exploring job opportunities in his major, as well as options for graduate school. Long-term, he would like to work in fisheries conservation and management at the state or national level.

Both Dez and Jessica have had the opportunity to meet personally with the donors and thank them for supporting the Guardian Scholars program. Joining the Sandahls in supporting the program are Bill and Myrna Phelps of Fairmont, Minn.

Mark Shea, BVU's director of student success, serves as a liaison with the Guardian Scholars and assists them in connecting with campus services they may need. "I really appreciate the donors who have contributed to this program because I have witnessed firsthand what an impact it had on Dez and Jessica," he says. "I believe this program has taken the stress off of worrying about paying for textbooks and other educational supplies, which has allowed them to focus on their studies. Both are students we will be proud to call BVU graduates."

BVU's Guardian Scholars program was patterned after one started by Ronald V. Davis, former chairman of Perrier Group of America, at California State University/Fullerton, his alma mater.

"Jessica and Dez are blazing the trail for other students who age out of the foster care system and want to graduate from college so they can realize their full potential," says Sandahl. "They both came to BVU with backgrounds that would have challenged anyone, but they have strong character and with the support and mentoring provided through the Guardian Scholars program and BVU they have excelled. They are self-reliant and proud of what they have done, and rightly so."

Sandahl would like to see the Guardian Scholars program at BVU serve as a model for other small schools to establish similar programs.

Students interested in applying for the Guardian Scholars program can contact BVU's Admissions Office. Additional information about the program is available at bvu.edu/admissions/guardian-scholars/.