UNI-CUE helps ‘Discover the Dream’



The UNI Center for Urban Education is located in Waterloo and works with students in Waterloo public schools.


This Friday, Sept. 15, 24 sixth-graders from the Waterloo area will get their first opportunity to be mentored by UNI students. This mentoring program, dubbed Discover the Dream, is organized by the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Urban Education (UNI-CUE).

“The goal is to get [the fifth-grade students] . . . prepared for middle school, as that is a big transition for many of the students . . . [as well as] having them become a more well-rounded leader,” said Megan Holbach, the director of Leadership Academy and assistant director at UNI-CUE.

These sixth-grade students come from UNI-CUE’s Leadership Academy. According to Holbach, the academy is a four-week summer program where fifth-grade students transitioning into sixth-grade learn valuable life and leadership skills. Each student is nominated by their teachers as displaying leadership potential that has yet to be fully tapped into.

Students learn about health and well-being, civil responsibility, personal responsibility and mapping the future. These study categories include math, reading, writing, Spanish and art. The program even includes education-based field trips to museums, cultural events and colleges.

Although Leadership Academy was started in 2009, Discover the Dream was conceptualized in early 2017. This summer’s Leadership Academy “graduates” are the first Discover the Dream participants.

In order to be eligible for Discover the Dream, students from Leadership Academy must enroll in UNI-CUE’s Educational Talent Search (ETS) program, which is for sixth through 12th graders.

Through study skills workshops, ACT and SAT prep, career exploration, scholarship and financial aid application assistance and other opportunities. ETS helps students graduate high school and become college admissible.

After a student has enrolled in ETS, he or she can become part of Discover the Dream, which means getting the chance to be mentored by UNI students from the Black Student Union, Center for Multicultural Education and the Hispanic/Latino Student Union. Mentoring will take place weekly in a variety of ways, including in person and through letters.

According to Holbach, her involvement in Discover the Dream is reminiscent of her childhood years when she was involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  She saw the value of being mentored as an adolescent.

“Even though I had an older sister, I still got involved with [Big Brothers Big Sisters],” Holbach said. “So that was a good opportunity to have someone . . . that’s not family be a mentor — and just someone to look up to. I think that if given the opportinity for every student, it’s a positive.”

Leadership Academy — and by extension Discover the Dream — is solely associated with Lincoln, Highland and Walter Cunningham elementary schools. However, UNI-CUE would like to see all elementary schools in the Waterloo area getting involved — with 10 students participating in Discover the Dream attending each of the four middle schools.

Discover the Dream hopes to keep students engaged in school and help them graduate high school. Not only is this program free, but for the high school graduates who are college-admissible with plans of attending UNI, their tuition will be paid in full.

“Obviously, the biggest objective is understanding the importance of education and sticking with it and knowing that if you have consistency, structure and some guidance . . . anything is possible,” Holbach said. “That’s why we say it’s ‘Discover the Dream.’”