Westminster's Venture Program Offers Access to Higher Education to Low-Income Utahns

Apr 22, 2015

April 22, 2015 Venture provides college credit, study skills, confidence to underprivileged students SALT LAKE CITY - Three years ago-under the cover of darkness-Brenda Nicholson, her husband and their six children packed up their belongings and secretly fled their Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint (FLDS) town to begin a new life. With no formal education-she was homeschooled by her mother and then attended an FLDS school led by Warren Jeffs-Nicholson's higher-education prospects looked bleak. Fast forward to April 23, 2015, and Nicholson will join 15 other students from around the Salt Lake Valley in a special graduation ceremony for Westminster's Venture Course in the Humanities. Designed to help low-income, disadvantaged participants like Nicholson, Venture is a two-semester college course in the humanities offered to students who are 18 years of age or older, have a limited household income, possess the ability to read an English newspaper and have a desire to further their education. For students like Nicholson, the Venture Course has been a dream come true. "Being a woman in the FLDS was a bad position to be in," she said. "We were taught that a girl's greatest desire was to become the wife of a good man and a mother to as many children as possible. Women have very little rights and cannot hold positions of authority. I had never dared to dream that I could pursue a degree or any other higher education-until we broke free. Then it became a very real desire and hope for me." In partnership with Utah Humanities, Westminster has hosted the Venture Course since 2006. The program is taught two evenings a week and is held at the Scott School in South Salt Lake. This year, the program was taught by three Westminster faculty, a professor from the University of Utah and a representative from Utah Humanities. The year-long program included classes in art history, literature, American history, philosophy and writing. "Venture focuses on the humanities because these disciplines ask the big, important questions that guide everything else we do, like 'what is a good life, what is justice and what does it mean to be free?'" said Dr. Lance Newman, Westminster's Venture Course director. "Technical disciplines can teach people how to do something, but the humanities helps them decide why." On Thursday, 16 students will receive Venture Course in the Humanities graduation certificates from Westminster. Several will go on to pursue their degrees at higher education institutions throughout the state. Students like Lilia Ortiz have traveled a tough road to get to where they are now. "Ever since I can remember, my life has been difficult," said Ortiz, who is a Mexican immigrant. "I had an alcoholic father that was never responsible and left my mother to work. Being the first in my family to graduate with a 3.9 G.P.A., I did not have any way financially to continue school-and my mom could not afford it. Having a higher education has always been my dream, but financially, it was not possible." With the help of Venture, Ortiz has received a scholarship to Salt Lake Community College in medical assisting and will start in the fall of 2015. Nicholson has been accepted to Westminster College and also plans to attend. "Now that I have a 5-year-old girl, I don't want her to have the situation I had growing up," Ortiz said. "I want to be an example and support. The only way for me to accomplish that is to pick up where I left off and continue toward a degree." "While not all Venture graduates go on to pursue higher education or have career-changing experiences, the confidence they gain from the program is stunning," Newman added. "Many of these students gain new confidence in their skills and abilities, as well as what they are capable of. This program often gives participants a new sense of who they are and helps them find their voice." Nicholson echoed Newman's thoughts, "I have always been quiet and shy, and had a hard time speaking up for myself. This course gave me a confidence that I've never known before. It has opened doors and connections with so many amazing people, and helped me realize my voice matters." The 2015 Venture Course graduation ceremony will be held April 23 at 7 p.m., in the Vieve Gore Concert Hall at Westminster College.    

Media Contacts

Krista DeAngelis and Arikka Von

About Westminster

Westminster is a private, independent, and comprehensive college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Students experience the liberal arts blended with professional programs in an atmosphere dedicated to civic engagement. With the goal of enabling its graduates to live vibrant, just, and successful lives, Westminster provides transformational learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students in a truly student-centered environment. Faculty focus on teaching, learning, and developing distinctive, innovative programs, while students thrive on Westminster’s urban Sugar House campus within minutes of the Rocky Mountains.

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