St. Catherine University ponders future of program that serves young women of color


This could be the last year for a program that introduces young women of color to the college experience at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn. The school is trying to figure out how to keep funding The First Step Summer Institute.

A spokeswoman for the university says the budget process will start in the fall and a decision could be made by next spring.

Nearly 1,500 high school girls have participated in the program over the last 30 years. During the week-long sessions the girls live in the university’s dormitories and attend workshops about financial aid, the college admission process and how to cope with stress. The program also introduces the girls to successful women of color from around the state. This year the program hosted 45 students from Minnesota and one from Wisconsin, including some relatively new immigrants from Asian and African countries.

The university says the program is aligned with the mission of the school and its commitment to give women of color access to higher education.

Carolyn Jackson, the community outreach coordinator at St. Kate’s, says First Step focuses on building confidence, leadership and community.

“That is so sorely needed in a lot of communities of color and to me that is a very purposeful and powerful investment and it should be a priority,” she said.

In the past, the program has been funded by a number of local companies, including the General Mills Foundation, Travelers, RBC Foundation USA, Piper Jaffray, Ameriprise Financial Inc. and Thomson Reuters.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the First Step program is shutting down. The story also incorrectly listed Travelers as the main financial supporter of the program.