Program helping Lincoln students find success faces recruiting barriers amid pandemic

Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 5:47 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Normally this week educational specialists with the Educational Talent Search program would be in schools across Lincoln, looking for kids who need a little extra push to get through to college. But because of the pandemic, their recruiting has gotten more difficult, and they want families to know they’re still out there.

It’s a program Tommy Nguyen joined when he was in middle school at Culler.

“They helped me transition from middle school to high school to college,” Nguyen said. “They helped me get dedicated to education at a young age, involved in extra-curricular activities and checked in on my grades.”

The UNL finance student didn't know then how important the program would be in his life.

"But now four years later I'm on my last year here and they helped me out a lot," Nguyen said.

Now, the program leaders are looking for more students like Nguyen, but this year its proven to be more difficult because their specialists can't get into schools.

“We’re focused on finding the students who have the potential to go to college,” Beth Jacobson, project director for the program said. “Those who need an extra push, a mentor, a pathway forward.”

The program, which is funded by TRIO and housed on UNL’s campus, works with kids in sixth through 12th grade who attend Northeast, Northstar or Lincoln High Schools and Culler, Dawes, Lefler, Mickle and Park Middle Schools.

Students must either be eligible for the free or reduced lunch program or would be first generation college students.

Once the students are in the program, they work one-on-one and in groups with specialists and other students to encourage and help them stay in school and get some kind of education beyond college.

“That could be a CDL, learning a trade, attending a community college or a four-year degree,” Jacobson said.

Nguyen said in middle and high school you don’t necessarily think of preparing for college until senior year, but he said it pays off, because by the time participants get to that point they can focus solely on applying for college.

“That’s what really helped me,” Nguyen said. “Having them guide me through that college process, my family doesn’t know about that because I’m a first generation college student so that really helped me.”

The program is free for families, and Jacobson said she’s seen it make a difference.

“Maybe they didn’t have college in their minds before,” Jacobson said. “Then now that they’ve talked with someone at ETS and they’ve been to different activities they know it’s a possibility.”

Though typically the specialists would come to the students to get them on board, this year parents do have to come to them.

Interested families can apply online here: or call: 402-472-8989.

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