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PEOPLE Program Celebrates 11th Year

Native American activist Ada Deer recently spoke at a banquet celebrating students, including Native American students, who are participating in the PEOPLE Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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The PEOPLE Program, or Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) is celebrating its 11th year of helping students prepare for and graduate from college.

To help celebrate, a banquet held at the end of July featured keynote speaker Ada Deer, the Menominee activist. She is a UW-Madison emerita faculty member and the Emeritus U.S. Commissioner for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

She was also the first Native American woman to graduate from UW-Madison in 1957, and later earned a master’s in social work from the New York School of Social Work, now the Columbia University School of Social Work.

Deer told the assembled 138 high school seniors and 87 UW-Madison freshmen that many people have invested in them.

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“You need to pay back some of that investment by reaching out to others,” said Deer in a story posted on The Madison Times. Deer has taught in the UW-Madison School of Social Work since 1977, and currently holds the title of Distinguished Lecturer. “There's no greater joy than helping your fellow man. It gives you such a deep sense of satisfaction.”

The PEOPLE Program began in 1999 with 66 high school students from Milwaukee. It is a “pre-college pipeline for students of color and low-income students, most of whom are the first in their families to potentially attend college,” states the program website.

“I think it was really part of a change of how we were going to approach diversity, engage diversity, and make a serious commitment in the institution,” PEOPLE Program Executive Director Jacqueline DeWalt told The Madison Times about the program’s beginning. “I can't tell you how pleased I am to see the way that the program has flourished. Today, the PEOPLE program across the state serves over 1,300 students each year.”

And the program is doing well, despite the economic recession.

“We have a 76-percent college graduation rate compared to the national average of 46 percent college graduation rate for similar populations across this nation,” DeWalt told The Madison Times.