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Dean's Future Scholars program promotes diverse student achievement

A university education is considered a birthright in some families, and inconceivable in others. In 2000, William Sparkman, dean of the College of Education, established the Dean’s Future Scholars to support at-risk students as they acquire academic skills, encouragement, mentoring and necessary self-confidence to make college a reality.

The Dean’s Future Scholars (DFS) program has expanded capacity annually and now serves 415 students in 20 Washoe County School District middle and high schools. More than half self-identify as Hispanic or Latino. Spanish is spoken in approximately 100  student homes.  

“The program recruits students who will be the first in their family to attend and, most importantly, to graduate from college,” Sparkman said. “Many of these students benefit from additional academic and social support. We encourage them to set challenging – yet attainable – goals such as raising their grades, taking additional math and English courses and earning their high school diploma.”

Robert Edgington, program coordinator, collaborates with Washoe County School District teachers and counselors to recruit up to 50 sixth grade students per year. Students remain active until after high school graduation.  

In 2006, the first cohort of future scholars graduated from high school; nearly 50 percent enrolled in college. The numbers soared to 80 percent for the second cohort.

“There are three critical predictors of success for students entering college: academic skill, building a relationship with mentors and taking a college course or two while a student is still in high school,” Edgington said.

“Math is the gateway to high school graduation and college acceptance. Some of our students need more help,” Edgington said. “We use the summer months to offer pre-English and math courses, familiarize students with the university campus and strengthen the support network that encourages academic excellence.”

University and community college students travel each week to designated middle and high schools to tutor and offer social support to DFS students.

“All the mentors were DFS students themselves so we understand how to help younger students to succeed in college,” said Carolina Rodriguez, a DFS mentor for four years. Rodriguez graduated from the University last May with a bachelor’s in business. She plans a career in human resources management but has arranged her work schedule to accommodate her commitment to DFS.

“This program is so wonderful for kids who wouldn’t know how to prepare for college,” Rodriguez said. “We help students feel comfortable so by the time they enroll, they know they belong here.”

This is the first year that job placement has been made available to 11th and 12th grade DFS students. The program’s job placement component is funded by a $60,000 workforce development contract with the City of Reno (Nevada) under the auspices of JOIN (Job Opportunities in Nevada) and Nevadaworks, Inc.

“Students work in various campus jobs,” said Amy Kight, a University graduate student and supervisor of the DFS job placement program. “We want them to learn about their potential major, the campus, and develop a network of staff and faculty who will assist them once classes start next fall.”

“Campus employment is desirable because students work around their academic schedule and prioritize their education,” Edgington said. 

“The Dean’s Future Scholars has delivered results for Washoe County School District and the College of Education,” Sparkman said. “The program has placed mentors and tutors in the community’s at-risk schools and boosted high school graduation rates. In the long-term, I hope we will attract greater numbers of diverse students into teacher education.”


Nevada’s land-grant university founded in 1874, the University of Nevada, Reno has more than 16,000 students and four campuses with Cooperative Extension education programs in all Nevada counties. The University is listed as one of the country’s top 150 research institutions by the Carnegie Foundation, and is home to America’s sixth-largest study abroad program and the state’s medical school.

 For Immediate Release: June 22, 2007

Contact: Zanny Marsh, Public Relations Director
College of Education
775-784-4783 or

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