NARRATOR: Tatiana Eskridge taught music in public schools for nine years. But she’s traded her teaching career for a different kind of classroom. During a holiday break, Tatiana walks the empty hallways of the University of Nebraska College of Law and shows us her new world.
TATIANA: I had torts, contracts, and criminal law in here.
NARRATOR: At the end of her first semester, Tatiana reflects on her decision to go to law school. She was encouraged by a former professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Tatiana was a Goodrich Scholar at UNO a decade ago and she stays connected with the program’s faculty and staff.
TATIANA: Our last conversation that we had over a meal, he said, “We've had a few conversations about law school before,” and then he said, “Tatiana, you have the capacity to do law school.” That stuck with me.
NARRATOR: Tatiana is embarking on a new dream to become a lawyer. But the foundation for her success was built as a Goodrich Scholar.
NARRATOR: In this episode of Leading Nebraska, we learn more about the Goodrich Scholarship program—and how it goes far beyond dollars and cents. In a sunlit office on the UNO campus, senior elementary education major Vanessa Chavez Juardo catches up with Troy Romero, a professor and chair of the Goodrich Scholarship program. Vanessa will graduate this year.
ROMERO: In fact, we're going to be losing you in a couple of months, right?
VANESSA: Yes, that's the plan.
ROMERO: I'm excited to see what you do after you're done.
NARRATOR: Vanessa is an elementary education major with a minor in leadership and public policy.
VANESSA: I always joked around, saying I want to be the secretary of education at some point. I think that's still something that I'm interested in, especially after having talked to a couple of folks working in various positions at the Department of Education in D.C. Right now, that’s the dream job.
NARRATOR: Big goals? You bet. But not out of reach. Her Goodrich scholarship was the first step in pursuing her dreams. It covers her college tuition and fees.
VANESSA: College is getting more and more expensive, and that means that it is becoming increasingly less accessible. I think that as a first-generation college student, it means a lot to have that burden removed from both my shoulders and my family’s.
NARRATOR: Vanessa has held a variety of internships, including a summer job as an intern with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington D.C. Those experiences broadened Vanessa’s dream beyond the classroom. She wants to help shape education policy and address the inequalities in education that were laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
VANESSA: Listening to teachers and students recognizing those inequities, and not being afraid to take new approaches, because so much has changed since the pandemic. We never really returned to normal. I don't think we want to because that normal was when we hadn't recognized those inequities. It's taking creative approaches to those issues, and making sure that the solutions are addressing all the needs of diverse students, teachers and the community.
NARRATOR: The chance to make a difference also affected Tatiana Eskridge and her decision to go to law school.
TATIANA: I want to be a change agent. I want to be part of looking into things—for teachers, educators, and administrators who were teachers and who have taught – how do we get their voices heard? How do we start changing things as it relates to policies that dictate how we do things in the classroom. That makes things the most effective for students and allows the professionals in the education field to implement those things, the way they think is best for students.
NARRATOR: Tatiana and Vanessa want to make an impact in their communities. That’s often a goal of Goodrich scholars. Since the program’s inception in 1972, class after class of students in the scholarship program have experienced a transformation—and gone on to become Nebraska leaders. Here’s Troy Romero.
ROMERO: The goal of the Goodrich program has been the same since it started. It is to provide access to students who might otherwise not be able to attend the university. It is intended, on the surface, to provide students who have financial need, who are Nebraska residents, and who have fewer than 32 credit hours to come – those are the requirements for the program. After that, it's to provide a community that allows them to be as successful as they can be.
NARRATOR: And the program is a proven success. Almost 100 percent of first-year students move on to their sophomore year—a high retention rate for college students. And 80 percent of Goodrich scholars graduate within five years. For every dollar invested in the scholarship program, there’s an estimated return of four dollars and 79 cents—almost a five-fold increase. Romero says the biggest beneficiary may be the state of Nebraska.
ROMERO: 78% of the students who graduated from our program stay in Nebraska. We are able to select so many bright, hardworking students. Typically, in other campuses, you hear about brain drain. Our students stay in the communities from which they came from and serve those communities after they've got this education. More so, almost 50% of our students, after they graduate, move on for more education—master's degrees, juris doctorates, Ph.D.’s. Not only do they get more educated, they stay in their communities, and they give back to their communities.
NARRATOR: Troy Romero is himself a Goodrich scholar. He failed at his first attempt at college—but Goodrich gave him another chance.
ROMERO: That was something that changed the shape of the rest of my life. I was quickly enveloped into a community.
NARRATOR: Community, Romero says, is the key.
ROMERO: Goodrich provides you with an opportunity to grow and become who you need to be and be connected to those who see potential in you. And they foster it.
NARRATOR: Vanessa has strong relationships with other Goodrich scholars and with the program’s faculty and staff. When she stops by the Goodrich offices, she feels at home.
VANESSA: We have a physical space where we can come. It's also me sending a late email sharing information about a family emergency, checking in to make sure everything's okay. It's being able to come in on a very long day and sit down, or running into a friend here in the office and sharing with one another how finals is a rough time of year. That community is also me going into a professor's office and catching up with them after having been gone the past few months.
NARRATOR: Goodrich students also take a series of classes together. The curriculum opens new perspectives on the world and deepens understanding—of self and others. In her Goodrich social issues class, Vanessa and a fellow student examined support for first generation college students at UNO. The class project eventually resulted in a new student organization.
VANESSA: Two years later, it's now an established student agency through the student government that's being funded by student fees. It becomes really important to recognize that this all started with a single final project.
If that doesn't show how impactful Goodrich can be, then I don't know what does—because in there we have the encouragement of the professors, the staff that helped us can get connected to other resources, and individuals who are passionate about supporting first gen students on campus. We’ve been able to use those resources and that support from across campus to implement what we saw as a solution.
NARRATOR: The classes also provide students with the opportunity to be part of a diverse community.
ROMERO: Over 80% of our students are black, Indigenous, students of color. Over 75% of our students are first-generation college students. There's a lot of diversity in that makeup. They get to see that in the classroom, they get to see students who reflect their own cultural backgrounds. Since the beginning, we’ve infused in our classes both assignments and readings that reflect the students that we serve. They see themselves in the education that they're obtaining and that makes them feel like a part of the educational system. No longer are they learning something that is alien to them, or outside of what they would normally see. It actually reflects who they are and what they are in the community.
NARRATOR: Financial support bolstered by strong community provides a confidence boost for students. As Tatiana moves from music teacher to law school, she knows she has a strong foundation as an alumna of the Goodrich program.
TATIANA: Goodrich builds a philosophy of connectedness, of community, and of excellence. Instilling that in their students and wanting them to focus on what they're doing, do it to the best of their ability, and providing supports along the way – whatever that looks like for that student, those classes, or whoever enters Goodrich.
NARRATOR: Troy Romero is proud of the program’s legacy—and looks forward to a successful future.
ROMERO: 50 years of the Goodrich Scholarship Program provides us with a great time to reflect. When I think about what Goodrich means, I'm overwhelmed with the power of the community that we've created.
NARRATOR: You’ve been listening to Leading Nebraska. To read the transcript for this podcast – or to find more stories about how the University of Nebraska builds a stronger state – visit Nebraska.edu/nuforne.
NOTE: This podcast is a production of the University of Nebraska. The opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Nebraska. It was created using excerpts from the actual interview and is representative of the entire conversation. Interviewees are given the transcript prior to airing to ensure technical accuracy. Some edits may reflect grammatical and syntax adjustments for transcription purposes. The podcast is released under a Creative Commons license that allows for non-commercial, no derivative usage with attribution.