On Saturday, June 3, 2017, 37 high school students were honored for completing UW-Madison’s Information Technology Academy (ITA), an initiative to provide intensive technology and college preparatory support to diverse and low-income students. All 37 students in this year’s graduating class were admitted to college. Fifteen of them gained admittance to UW-Madison, of whom fourteen will matriculate at UW-Madison in fall 2017, and one student deferred his enrollment while he serves in the U.S. Marine Corps.
The graduation celebration was held at the Dejope Residence Hall, a campus space intentionally chosen because of its connection to Native Americans in Wisconsin – “Dejope” is a name that Ho-Chunk and other American Indians have used for the Madison area for thousands of years. This year, ITA’s Tribal Technology Institute (ITA-TTI) graduated its first cohort of students. Whereas ITA’s Madison-based program (ITA Madison) began 17 years ago and graduated the 14th cohort of students, ITA-TTI began three years ago to serve Native American communities in Lac du Flambeau and Oneida. Both ITA-TTI programs – ITA-TTI Oneida and ITA-TTI Lac du Flambeau – use a blended learning model of in-person and online instruction to deliver the same technology and academic preparation received by ITA Madison students.
During their multi-year ITA experience, the students met multiples times each month — and two weeks each summer — throughout their high school career to learn web design, coding, graphic design, and many other technology skills. Students also completed courses to build their academic and leadership skills, to prepare for college, and to explore technology-related careers through a paid internship.
To begin the ceremony, three student speakers representing the three programs shared their experiences with ITA. Liliana Teniente from ITA Madison spoke about the new opportunities ITA provided, saying, “ITA presented me with endless opportunities to learn and grow. Above all, I was in an inclusive environment that appreciated me for being myself. No other place has done that for me. As I stand in front of you today, I can truthfully say that I have never been so proud to have been a part of such a diverse, talented, encouraging, and insightful group of young people.”
Student speaker Michael Williams, a graduate of the ITA-TTI Oneida cohort, reflected, “Without this program I would’ve been a total different person. I would’ve never thought I could make it to Madison nor even had wanted to apply. It opened my eyes to all of the different things Madison had for me. And now by going to UW-Madison I can find a way to give back to the system that made me, quite literally, who I am today.” Kenadi Mayo from ITA-TTI Lac du Flambeau also shared her experiences.
Prior to the ceremony, the three student speakers were featured in the article “First cohort of Native students to graduate from UW-Madison college pipeline program” by Doug Erickson that the University published. In addition to celebrating the first graduating classes from ITA-TTI Oneida and ITA-TTI Lac du Flambeau, the article also shares more about Michael’s and Kenadi’s story.
Israel Lopez delivered the Keynote Address at the graduation event. Mr. Lopez is a business attorney at Neider & Boucher, S.C. He also is the founder of the Chins Up Foundation, and the CEO and Co-Founder of Akuraa Technologies, Inc. Mr. Lopez first inspired the graduating students last summer in their technology “Get Invested” class. There, he shared his experiences overcoming adversity and starting a technology-based communication company with a mission to help underprivileged youth. When he addressed the graduates on Saturday, he elaborated on the theme and explained how he learned to innovate through technology. “The more I learned,” Mr. Lopez said, “The more I realized that I can complete my mission through innovative technology.” He challenged ITA’s graduates to find their passion, develop a mission, and keep fighting to complete that mission.
After the graduates received their ITA diplomas, ITA Executive Director Ron Jetty presented the ITA Legacy of Excellence Award to Rosee Xiong, a graduate of the ITA Madison cohort. The award goes to one student each year for his or her commitment, scholarship, leadership, and personal growth. The daughter of Hmong refugees, Rosee strongly values education and completes everything she does to the best of her ability. In addition to ITA, she participated in GEAR-UP, volunteers in her community, plays in her school orchestra, and is a member of the National Honor Society. She received a 2017 National Center for Women and Information Technology award for her active interest in computer science. Beyond her accolades, ITA staff recognized Rosee’s grit, optimism, thoughtfulness, and creativity. Rosee will attend UW-Madison in the fall on a full-tuition PEOPLE scholarship.
The ITA team is proud of all of the graduates’ accomplishments and look forward to seeing their continued success.