Carson College scholarship/mentorship program fosters belonging and success.
Dominic Devengenzo (above) has always loved sports. By high school, he knew he wanted to be an agent for athletes but wasn’t sure he could afford college to get the skills he needed. And he worried about fitting in—no one in his family had ever attended college.
Thanks to EDGE (Expanding Diverse Group Experiences), a program for first-generation (first-gen) students at the WSU Carson College of Business, Devengenzo has benefitted from both scholarships and a support network that are making his dreams possible.
The WSU experience started for Devengenzo in April 2020 when, during the middle of the Covid pandemic, he was a senior at Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord, California, and excited about his acceptances to colleges—but didn’t yet know where or how he would be able to attend. He wasn’t able to visit any universities that had accepted him, so he decided to call faculty members, asking questions and listening to what they had to say.
“The WSU faculty were so welcoming and knowledgeable,” Devengenzo said. “It’s why I decided to come to WSU—it felt right.”
Later, when he received notification that he had been granted several WSU scholarships covering tuition and room and board, he could hardly believe it. He remembered how emotional he felt—he was actually going to be a Coug.
“It was a gift. It made me think I was going to WSU for a reason.”
“The catalyst for everything I’ve been able to accomplish”
One of the scholarships making it possible for Devengenzo to attend WSU came from EDGE, which provides financial support each year for 25 first-gen students who come from low-income backgrounds.
But the EDGE program—unique to Carson College—is much more than a scholarship. It provides a network of support for students like Devengenzo as they transition to the demands of college life. This includes workshops for developing academic skills and monthly meet-ups with peers, faculty, and business professionals.
“My scholarships got me here,” said Devengenzo, “but EDGE served as the catalyst for everything I’ve been able to accomplish at WSU.”
The EDGE program is the result of a generous estate gift, strategically stewarded by a forward-thinking director of the Carson Center for Success Center, and a dedicated assistant director with a vision.
The donor who made the EDGE scholarships possible, Merl Mayo, had a successful career at Boeing that included a ten-year assignment working on the Saturn/Apollo Program. He named WSU as a beneficiary of his estate, which led to the creation of the Merl Mayo Endowed Scholarship in Business in 2015.
Then, in 2017, after reviewing the Mayo Gift Use Agreement, Suzi Billington, the director of the Carson Center for Student Success, met with Stacey Smith-Colon, then assistant director of academic advising at the center, to discuss how to award scholarships funded by this estate gift.
When Billington shared with Smith-Colon that there were few restrictions on the scholarship fund, she knew exactly how the funds should be used.
“I immediately thought: Yes, scholarships for students with need. Specifically for first-generation students—with a network of support,” said Smith-Colon.
Smith-Colon had been a first-gen student herself, receiving a state-sponsored scholarship to attend Indiana State University.
“Felt like I didn’t really belong”
“The scholarship was wonderful,” Smith-Colon said, “but navigating university life was overwhelming, and because the university provided no support, I not only felt lost, I felt like I didn’t really belong. The following semester, I dropped out.”
After working in an unfulfilling job, and knowing she had more to offer, Smith-Colon returned to college, completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Idaho, and took a job with Upward Bound, helping low-income, first-gen students prepare for college.
By the time she was assistant director of academic advising at Carson, she was well aware that her own college experience as a first-gen student had not been unique. Research affirms this. In a ten-year national study by the Department of Education of public high school students, only 20 percent of first-gen college students obtained a bachelor’s degree within eight years of graduating from high school, compared with 42 percent of students who had at least one parent who attended college.
Research has also made clear that first-gen students do not lack academic ability. However, they often have anxiety about not only financial issues, but also: 1) the possibility of academic failure; 2) the unknowns of navigating daily life at an intimidatingly large university; and 3) the fear of not fitting in (will there be other students like them?).
During Smith-Colon’s discussion with Billington, she proposed creating a program that provides these students with not only financial resources but also a network of support, and Billington gave her the green light. That summer, Smith-Colon developed a program based on research and best practices, and Carson College welcomed the first class of EDGE students in fall semester 2018.
Enhancing social capital
Three years later when Devengenzo joined his first-year classmates, he attended panel discussions focused on challenges first-gen students face, as well as workshops on skills and behaviors that lead to academic success—all reinforced throughout the semester.
There were also opportunities to enhance social capital by leveraging social networks to create future opportunities. EDGE promotes this in numerous ways: EDGE students are not only assigned an academic advisor and have frequent interactions with faculty, they also meet with business and industry professionals through regularly scheduled activities with the Carson College’s Industry Mentorship Program or by engaging with visiting speakers.
But one of the most beneficial aspects of the EDGE program is having a peer mentor. Peer mentors are junior or seniors who are also in the program and have taken an extended course on mentoring. This means EDGE students have an ally who has been through it and is there for them. And the peer mentors gain their own valuable experience in the process.
This wraparound support, in addition to a $3,000 annual scholarship, addresses many of the anxieties of first-gen students. They are not only fitting in; they are thriving. And here’s the proof:
- 100 percent of first-year EDGE students go on to their sophomore year at WSU.
- 95 percent of EDGE students earn at least a 2.5 cumulative GPA.
- 93 percent of EDGE students graduate from Carson with a bachelor’s degree within four years.
These graduation rates are significantly higher than WSU’s four-year system-wide graduation rates, which average around 40 percent. EDGE’s graduation rates are even higher than those of some notable Ivy League colleges.
Devengenzo is just one of many examples of how EDGE students are succeeding. Now a senior, he is pursuing a triple major in accounting, finance, and management information systems—and in the process gaining the skills to prepare him for the career he still aspires to: becoming an agent for athletes.
Recently, as an ambassador for Carson College, Devengenzo was selected to moderate a National First-Generation Celebration hosted by WSU. And he’s peer-mentoring first-year EDGE students. Plus, he has recruited his younger brother, Jacob Hood, back in California to attend WSU.
“I want to help the newest EDGE members find their WSU community the way it helped me find mine,” Devengenzo said.
He also aspires to give back to WSU financially one day. He knows first-hand how donors’ gifts made his college experience financially possible, changing the trajectory of his life.
“If I could meet the donors who make EDGE possible, I would tell them about the things I’ve accomplished in my time here. And I would love to tell them how my future is bright because of them.”