ISU 4U brings high schoolers from Des Moines to Ames

Darrick Barrage and Somerle Rhiner, both seniors at North High School, are members of the first cohort of the ISU4U Promise program. 

Tara Larson

The first cohort of the ISU 4U Promise will graduate this spring and begin classes at Iowa State in the fall.

The program began in 2013 after Ako Abdul-Samad, state representative and community leader, brought the idea to then-president Steven Leath. Iowa State and Des Moines Public Schools worked together to set up a partnership through King and Moulton elementary schools. The partnership allows students from each school to earn partial or full tuition to attend Iowa State upon their fifth-grade graduation from one of these schools.

“When I think about the ISU 4U Promise, I always thought about it, yes, as a college access for the youth,” said Katherine Richardson Bruna, associate professor of education and ISU 4U professor in charge. “But I had always thought about it as a way that we can actually begin to systemically create an inclusive campus climate.”

For the first cohort, this started while they were in eighth grade. Of the 23 students from the first year of the program, 15 have been accepted by Iowa State and 11 have officially enrolled for the fall of 2018.

Each of those students has a story unique from the others.

Madison Baxter

Madison Baxter, senior at Roosevelt High School, grew up with five siblings. Two are older, and three younger. She grew up living with her mother, grandparents and five siblings, one of whom has special needs. Although her grandparents got four-year college degrees, neither of her parents did. Madison will be the first of her siblings to enroll in college.

“My oldest sister, who’s 22, dropped out of high school in tenth grade,” Madison said. “And I have a 19-year-old sister who graduate from Scavo High School, which is a school for students who have trouble finishing high school.”

Although her older siblings and parents did not finish their degrees, Madison sees a different future for herself.

“I want to go to college because I very much want to have a better and different future than my sisters, and to be independent,” Madison said. “I hope to inspire my younger siblings and show them there are other opportunities. When you live in such a negative atmosphere, you are convinced there’s nothing out there for you.”

Madison is not sure what she will major in yet, but one thing that drew her to Iowa State is the wide array of classes. She also likes that it’s close to her home, and her best friend is an Iowa State fanatic. One of the biggest factors drawing her to choose Iowa State was the ISU 4U Promise and receiving full tuition.

“[This promise] shows that there are people out there who care about young people’s education,” Madison said. “It’s like a head-start almost, because there’s no way my family would have been able to afford [tuition].”

Darrick Barrage

Darrick Barrage, senior at North High School, has dreams of studying performing arts and vocal music at Iowa State.

Darrick has been involved in his high school theater department and two choirs throughout his high school career and wants to continue when he attends Iowa State in the fall.

Darrick’s father did not attend college, and Darrick is unsure whether his mother did. His parents split up when he was young. Although he still is in close contact with his family, he moved out during his sophomore year to live with a friend, an agreement made by both parties, he said.

Although his father did not attend, Darrick has always wanted to go to college one day.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve always valued school,” Darrick said. “I remember I never really wanted to miss school unless I really had to. I remember I always valued school more than anything because I valued choosing my future.”

Growing up, Darrick said he felt Iowa State spoke to him most. He remembered recognizing the Cyclones even though he was not big into sports, and he toured the campus several times though different events.

“It even played out majorly when I was accepted into the ISU 4U Promise, which essentially was the deciding reason why I definitely wanted to go to ISU, because they offered that kind of thing that I didn’t see any other college offering,” Darrick said.

Somerle Rhiner

Somerle Rhiner, another senior at North High School, will be the first generation of her family attending college. Somerle is the only child in her family, and her father has been fairly absent in her life growing up.

“Nobody in my family has gone to college or been successful staying in,” Somerle said. “College has always been a goal because I want to make as much money as I can.”

Somerle has seen benefits from the ISU 4U program outside of the tuition promise.

“I lost connection with some of my friends because they went to different schools or whatever happened, and now we’re all back together,” Somerle said. “So [this promise] does not only provide for my dreams to go to Iowa State or college, but also bringing back these old friendships that we had.”

Denisse San Elias

Denisse San Elias, senior at East High School, grew up in a home where neither parent finished high school, prompting her to become more interested in completing a four-year degree.

“My dad didn’t finish high school and neither did my mom, so I thought finishing high school would be an achievement but going to college would be an even greater achievement,” Denisse said. “[My family] is very supportive.”

Without the ISU 4U Promise, many students would have difficulties funding their college education, and Denisse feels no different.

“The thought of not being able to afford college really strains me,” Denisse said. “Now that I don’t have that on my back, it’s really motivating.”