The partnership between Marygrove and Frank Venegas, founder, chairman, and CEO of Detroit-based Ideal Group, might at first seem unlikely. Venegas is in the construction business and specializes in making and distributing protective barrier products. Marygrove College is and has always been in the “business” of student success. So what drew this industrial entrepreneur and a Catholic, liberal arts institution to one another?
Like Marygrove, Venegas loves Detroit. And like Marygrove, Venegas has an uncompromising commitment to the city’s youth. Out of this mutual love blossomed a relationship—and an innovative idea—that would eventually bring Marygrove College, Venegas and Detroit Cristo Rey High School (DCRHS) together.
The partnership, which began in 2014, culminated in a dual-enrollment program designed to equip Detroit Cristo Rey High School seniors with the skills to succeed in college by giving them the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school. Each week, the collaboration brought 55 DCRH seniors to Marygrove’s campus Monday through Thursday afternoons. DCRHS seniors took humanities and math courses and were given the opportunity to earn free college credit and experience college-level academics.
Was the program effective? Judging by the fact that seven students who participated in the program last semester are currently enrolled at Marygrove College, it is safe to say that the partnership was a success. In fact, the program was so successful that Marygrove has expanded its curriculum and is pleased to report that student enrollment in the program is up this semester.
Karina Cebrero-Moreno, a former DCRHS student who took advantage of the dual-enrollment program and is currently a full-time student at Marygrove, has described the program as a “huge blessing,” one that challenged her, helped make the transition from high school to college much easier, and allowed her to get ahead. “As a dual-enrollment student, I was lucky because I was able to form relationships with Marygrove professors while I was still in high school. I got to know them; I got to know the students, so once I became a Marygrove student I didn’t feel alone. I wasn’t lost in my classes and I already knew where I wanted to go with my education.”
Ask Marygrove President Dr.David J. Fike who deserves credit for the success of the partnership between Marygrove and Detroit Cristo Rey High School, and he will tell you this: “Two words: Frank Venegas.”
Venegas has always been passionate about Southwest Detroit, about students and education. The drive to turn this passion into progress is nothing new. Students saw Venegas’ commitment to the community during a visit to DCRHS, which is less than a mile away from the Ideal Group. Noticing that there were not enough computers for the students, Venegas took action by donating iPads, one for each of senior, teacher and administrator at the high school.
After more than six years of mentoring students, Venegas set his sights on doing more: supporting students who are often the first in their families to attend college. Because higher education can be a new experience for a student’s entire family, they may not have the benefit of generational experience to adequately prepare; something many students with college-educated parents take for granted.
Although these particular students excel in their subjects, Venegas points out that they are not always familiar with college options. That’s why he came up with the idea to send them to a place like Marygrove—to earn college credit while acquiring important preparatory skills in a compassionate and nurturing environment.
Dual-enrollment programs, popular with high school seniors and parents around the nation, are a cost-effective way to earn college credit while still in high school, but Marygrove and Detroit Cristo Rey have an innovative approach to the current paradigm. Unlike many dual-enrollment programs, this one is much more than a rudimentary introduction to college life, or a way for students to pile up credits. Marygrove’s program is an immersive experience, one that exposes students to a wide range of college subjects throughout the semester, and gives students the opportunity to learn in an intimate educational environment with a variety of college faculty. Through this experience, freshmen are given a head start that will enhance their academic performance.
Although DCRHS, located in southwest Detroit, educates students from forty zip codes, the student population is predominantly Hispanic. Venegas, with an acute cultural knowledge of his community, understands how significant family is to DCRHS students; some are reluctant to go off to college and leave their families to pursue higher education. “Marygrove is a perfect fit for these kids,” Venegas says. “Family is important to them. They can stay at home, work at home, help at home, and go to school locally, all while earning a college degree.”