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updated 2:54 PM CDT, Jul 28, 2018

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Washington World Fellows small step toward addressing troubling state higher-ed issue

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The 15 high school students who make up the inaugural Washington World Fellows class, an unusual program conceived by Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib as what he characterizes as "an equity-focused study abroad and college readiness program," leave Saturday for Leon, Spain, where the program will be based.  

The program is the result of a partnership between the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and the statewide non-profit organization called the Association of Washington Generals, with Central Washington University as the academic partner and support from the Seahawks and the Mariners.

While the Fellows program, approved by the Legislature this year, is not limited to disadvantaged students, Habib said the students selected for the first year of the program, "bring to life the dream behind the program: connecting deserving students with opportunities they might not otherwise have."

Nearly all of the fellows, all in the 10th grade, plan to be the first in their families to attend college, and for all of them, this trip will be their first experience in overseas travel.

As Ralph Ibarra, treasurer of the Washington Generals who has worked closely with Habib on the details to get the program launched, put it: "the students selected from this program are from all over the state from high schools where they wouldn't otherwise have study abroad opportunities."

In some respects, the program is a small step toward addressing an unusual and troubling high-education dichotomy in Washington, which is one of the top five states in the nation in the percent of the adult population with college degrees but one of the worst states in the percent of students not going to college.

Dr. James Gaudino, president of Central Washington University, which as academic partner will be providing college credits to the students for their involvement, says the issue of students not going to college has troubled the state's college and university presidents.

'We don't know the reason bur we have to think that one of the things that could be going on is a lack of self-confidence, a sense of 'I don't know if I can do this,'" Gaudino said.  

Thus he sees the creation of the Washington World Fellows initiative as a "self-efficacy" effort. "We need to help the students come to believe they can do it," meaning they need to think they have the capability to go to college and get a degree.

The last legislative session passed a bill that Habib pressed for and that the Seahawks and Mariners testified on behalf of that creates sustainable future funding for the Washington World Fellows program. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer,D-Bellevue, dedicates a percentage of the revenue from the future sale of specialty license plates of the two professional sports teams to support of the program.

"I'm excited that students from all over the state have shown interest in this program - from Prescott to La Push," Lt. Governor Habib said. "Study abroad changes lives. I am thrilled that this fellowship will expand opportunities for these inspirational and hardworking students."

As Habib's office explained, the study abroad experience includes a full academic schedule with an emphasis on Spanish language and Spanish politics. Courses will be taught at a college level, and students will be able to earn dual college and high school credits.  

Following the study abroad experience, the World Fellows program will provide students with college-readiness support and leadership opportunities, including help with college applications.

The Association of Washington Generals, as implementer of the Fellows effort, is a Washington state service organization founded in 1970 by a group of Seattle-area business people in alliance with then-Lt. Governor John A. Cherberg. The founding purpose of the Generals was to provide a platform to recognize the outstanding service of individuals in this state and to bring them together into an organization that enables them to "continue to serve our state."

In 2005, the Association was codified under state law by the Legislature, statutorily linking the organization to the Office of Lieutenant Governor and formally established the Generals as official ambassadors of trade, tourism, and goodwill for the state.  

The financial support of two other organizations focused on helping needy students become college ready is significant in the view of supporters of the Fellows.

One is AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, which has been one of the Wenatchee School District's tools to helping kids go on to college for 10 years.

The other is the College Success Foundation, which works with school districts across the state and the District of Columbia, to provide support and scholarships to inspire low-income students to graduate from high school and pursue a college degree.

AVID was founded by a San Diego English teacher in 1980 to help average kids from low-income families develop academic study and career-readiness skills. The program has since been adopted by schools in nearly every state and many countries. Tutors help students better manage their lives and time.

The College Success Foundation was founded by the late Costco executive Bob Craves and Ann Ramsay-Jenkins in 2000 to serve what they viewed as "a very vulnerable population, the underserved  - those who might not otherwise get to college."  

They founded the College Success Foundation to provide students with the inspiration, mentoring and financial supports necessary to pursue and complete a college education.

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