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Photo of Deb Gau Tetta Askeland gave high school students in Marshall, Worthington and Yellow Medicine East a tour of the SMSU theater store on Saturday.

MARSHALL – Traveling from Florida to rural Minnesota to attend college was culture shock, said Carl Douglas.

“I had never seen a red barn in my life until we were driving (towards Marshall) on Highway 19”, Douglas told an audience of about 50 area high school students. Besides the change of environment, he was also moving from a black community to a community where people were predominantly white. “There were very few people who looked like me when I first came here. “

But while initially it wasn’t easy to adjust to life in Marshall, Douglas said his experiences at Southwest Minnesota State University were life changing.

“I wouldn’t change a thing” Douglas said, responding to a question from a student. “It puts everything in perspective.”

Douglas, now vice president of student affairs at Wayne State College, was the keynote speaker at a celebration of first-generation students this weekend at SMSU. Speaking to students at Marshall High School, Worthington High School and Yellow Medicine East High School, Douglas said: “Make sure you choose a college that’s right for you, and not someone else.”

The difference a college education makes was one of the messages shared in the second “Celebration of the first generation” coordinated by the TRIO Upward Bound program at SMSU. November 8 is National First Generation Day, celebrating the achievements of students who were the first in their families to attend college. Organizers said it was a celebration that aligns with the mission of the Upward Bound program, which is to help under-represented students prepare for and succeed in higher education. At SMSU, the students served by Upward Bound include students who would be the first in their families to go to college.

High school students in the area said being a part of Upward Bound made a difference for them, through tutoring, career exploration, help applying to colleges and more.

“If you have any questions, they will help you” MHS student Ju Eh said.

Worthington student Ashley Perez said she didn’t think she would have planned to go to college if she hadn’t been a part of Upward Bound.

On Saturday, students were able to meet Upward Bound alumni and first-generation college graduates, take a behind-the-scenes tour of the SMSU Fine Arts Building, and watch a play or wheelchair basketball game. .

While Saturday’s program was a celebration, there were parts to allow high school students to experience the university and different fields of study and activity, said Amy Nemitz, director of Upward Bound at SMSU.

“We try to expose them to different programs. Maybe it’s something they never thought about ”, Nemitz said. It was in part for this reason that the students visited the stage, stage and costume shops of the university theater on Saturday afternoon.

The students said that traveling was one of the things they enjoyed being a part of Upward Bound.

“I like university visits” said a student. This year the group traveled to Mankato, where they had the chance to visit different schools including South Central College and Bethany Lutheran College.

In addition to the opportunities offered by Upward Bound, the students said they also liked having the support of other teens in the program.

“I made a lot of new friends in the program,” MHS student GayMoo Thaw said.

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