Growing up, Mainor Ramirez Tercero had goals and dreams — but college wasn’t necessarily one of them. As the son of Guatemalan immigrants who had not attended college, the cost and pathways to higher education felt insurmountable.
“I never pictured myself attending a college, or having a higher level of education after high school, being lower income, and having to live with a new family when my parents were deported (when I was in) in fifth grade,” the junior nutritional sciences and dietetics major said.
Tercero was born and raised in Grand Island, Nebraska, where in eighth grade, he learned about the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Nebraska College Preparatory Academy and applied. Acceptance into the program changed his life.
“It provided a support system for me,” he said. “I met people who were from similar situations and similar backgrounds as me, and I built a small community and met some of my closet friends.
“I didn’t know much about college, about majors and minors, or how to transition into college. NCPA helped me develop those skills and think about my future. Without the NCPA, I probably wouldn’t have been in the right mindset to go to school and do well. I would have been constantly thinking about my financial stability.”
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s NCPA supports first-generation and low-income high school students achieve academic success and attend college. Students are selected for the program as they finish eighth grade and are entering high school. They take advanced courses, maintain a 3.25 grade point average and have access to services through the program, including college camps, tutoring and leadership development.
Those who complete the high school program and enroll at Nebraska join the Trenchard Foundation Institute of Excellence, NCPA’s college support program, and receive a financial aid package that covers total cost of attendance (tuition, food, room and board). Founded in 2006, NCPA is funded by grants and charitable contributions.
Donors can support NCPA during Glow Big Red, an annual 24-hour fundraiser organized by the University of Nebraska Foundation. The daylong campaign begins at noon, Feb. 15 and continues to noon, Feb. 16.
“One-hundred percent of the funds raised go directly to the scholars via scholarship support, or through experiential programs designed to equip them for their future careers and educational supplies,” said Moi Padilla, director of NCPA. “The program is set up to give scholars the freedom to enter their professional careers with a strong community of support and without the added burden of student loan debt. Donor support is critical to achieving this goal.”
The Glow Big Red drive for NCPA is being boosted by a local physician and university alumnus and his wife, Dr. Klaus and Gisela Hartmann, who have donated to the program for several years. The Hartmanns provided a challenge match for Glow Big Red based on the number of donors. To encourage others to give, they committed $5,000 if it reaches 50 donors, and another $5,000 if it reaches 100.
“I think the college preparatory program is just excellent,” Dr. Hartmann said. “I’m very glad the university is doing this, especially focusing on individuals who otherwise could not go to the university and giving them that chance. From what I’ve learned through my interactions with these students, the whole group is capable, hardworking and enthusiastic. They’re bound to succeed in life once given that boost.”
The Hartmanns financially sponsored Tercero and another student, but they also have provided mentorship to additional NCPA students.
“We check in with him and two other students from time to time, take them out to dinner or email back and forth,” Dr. Hartmann said. “We’ve learned a bit about their backgrounds, and wanted them to have support if there were any problems. We are available to help out and help them overcome any difficulties they might experience.”
Padilla said not all donors mentor students, but some do, and often those students are matched based on opportunities for increased community support.
“What we’ve learned over the years is that despite the talent the students have, they may not always have the access to connections or networks to navigate the complexities of ‘real life’ — job searching, etc.,” Padilla said. “In addition to taking the burden off of trying to figure out how to pay for college, donors are assisting students to find connections that will help them as they prepare for their future careers.”
Tercero has leaned on the Hartmanns as he pursues his degree and goal for a career in health care. Right now, he is on a track toward becoming a physician assistant and has spent time with Dr. Hartmann, picking his brain and learning more about a career in the health care industry.
“He’s shared some of the obstacles he had to overcome, and he’s reassured me that as long as you put in the work and give your full 100 percent effort, you can attain anything you want in life,” Tercero said.
Tercero has also served as a mentor for students like himself. He was an NCPA ambassador at Grand Island Senior High School while there and is a New Student Enrollment Orientation Leader for incoming students at Nebraska.
“I’ve tried to give them faith that this is a great opportunity,” he said. “If you’re in a similar situation as me, I want to be someone who lets them know that they belong here, and can grow and have a better future.”