Aegon Transamerica Foundation awards $50k to support first-generation Cedar Rapids students

Mali Kituza of Jefferson High School (left) and Amari Rogel of Washington High School (right) pose with their award amounts.
Mali Kituza of Jefferson High School (left) and Amari Rogel of Washington High School (right) pose with their award amounts. CREDIT AEGON TRANSAMERICA

A $50,000 grant provided by Aegon Transamerica Foundation is helping to improve access to higher education for low-income and first-generation college-bound students in the Cedar Rapids School District.

The two-year grant builds capacity for Educational Talent Search (ETS), a federally funded program coordinated by the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Urban Education (UNI-CUE), and its partnership with six schools in the district.

The program is designed to encourage academic success by providing support services that will help students graduate and ultimately enable them to pursue a postsecondary education. Its partnership with the Cedar Rapids School District began in 2021 and is projected to serve 500 students by 2026, a release said.

Denita Gadson, director of ETS Cedar Rapids, said the foundation’s contribution will directly impact students through scholarships, enhanced tutoring, support for cultural activities, and college readiness workshops for students and their families.

“Thanks to the Aegon Transamerica Foundation’s contribution, ETS Cedar Rapids has experienced a significant boost in capacity,” said Ms. Gadson. “The foundation’s support has empowered us to make a substantial impact by broadening opportunities and options for first-generation students and those from economically challenged backgrounds who may have never envisioned a path beyond high school.”

ETS Cedar Rapids joins other TRIO programs that have been housed at UNI-CUE for nearly four decades. TRIO programs are federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Additionally, UNI-CUE hosts the Educational Opportunity Center, Educational Talent Search-Waterloo, Upward Bound, and Upward Bound Math & Science. These programs support students and community members in pursuing and continuing their educational goals and preparing for careers. Federal funding mandates that two-thirds of ETS participants meet income requirements and be first-generation college-bound students, meaning neither parent has received a bachelor’s degree.

“Our support for ETS Cedar Rapids underscores the Aegon Transamerica Foundation’s commitment to fostering stronger, more resilient communities where Transamerica employees live and work,” said Laura Wirth, head of corporate development at Transamerica and Aegon Transamerica Foundation board member. “Empowering young people in our community to reach their highest aspirations paves the way for a brighter future for all. We are honored that our contribution is helping underrepresented students in Cedar Rapids achieve academic success and fulfill their potential.”

Amari Rogel of Washington High School and Mali Kituza of Jefferson High School were announced in May as the inaugural recipients of the Aegon Transamerica Foundation-UNI TRIO Scholarship, each receiving $2,500.

Paul Hayes, K-12 School Counseling Lead for the Cedar Rapids Schools, said ETS aligns with the district’s strategic goals around equity, access and success, and supports its efforts to increase graduation rates and improve college and career readiness.

“The University of Northern Iowa’s ETS program has been a game-changer for many students in Cedar Rapids,” Mr. Hayes said. “The commitment to inclusivity and support for all students has resulted in leveling the playing field so our underrepresented students who participate are given the opportunity to excel academically.”

Participating ETS schools in the Cedar Rapids district include Franklin Middle School, McKinley STEAM Academy, Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy, Wilson Middle School, Jefferson High School and Washington High School.