'Grit' required of Harper College Promise students, Motorola CEO says

  • Palatine mom Tanya Williams embraces Anna Brown, left, as Williams' son, Tyler Smith, right, looks on Monday night during the formal launch of Harper College's Promise Scholarship program. Brown along with her husband and Motorola CEO Greg Brown are chairing a fundraising campaign for the program. Tyler, 14, plans to apply to join the program as freshman this December.

      Palatine mom Tanya Williams embraces Anna Brown, left, as Williams' son, Tyler Smith, right, looks on Monday night during the formal launch of Harper College's Promise Scholarship program. Brown along with her husband and Motorola CEO Greg Brown are chairing a fundraising campaign for the program. Tyler, 14, plans to apply to join the program as freshman this December. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • "Hard work is just part of the deal," Harper President Ken Ender said of a plan to offer high school students free community college.

      "Hard work is just part of the deal," Harper President Ken Ender said of a plan to offer high school students free community college. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted3/31/2015 12:14 AM

By her mom's account, Ivette Castanon is a responsible, hardworking student whose "greatest desire" is becoming a doctor.

"I want to be able to make my parents proud, but most importantly, I want to achieve my lifelong goal and dream," Ivette says.

 

At 14, she knows what it takes to get there.

"I still have my whole life ahead of me, but I have never wanted anything so much in my life like I do wanting to go to college," the Palatine teen said.

It's that forward thinking that Harper College says makes Ivette the perfect candidate to join the Promise Scholarship program. She and other eighth-graders were invited for a ceremony Monday night to launch a bold plan offering Northwest suburban students up to two years of free tuition, regardless of their family's income.

"We'll give you a way to work for it," Harper President Ken Ender told the teens and their families.

To work for free tuition, the students, as freshman, will apply to join the Promise program in December. Then, starting their second semester, high schools in Palatine-Schaumburg District 211, Northwest Suburban District 214 and Barrington Area Unit District 220 will consistently track the students against a list of strict criteria set by businesses and educators.

They must keep up their grades and attendance, volunteer and place into college-level courses.

Ender and Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown summed up what's expected of Promise students in one word: grit.

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"It is absolutely, positively about grit. I don't believe it's the cards you're dealt in life," Brown told students. "I don't believe in that. I believe it's in how you play the hand."

Grit is what the Schaumburg-based technology giant expects in prospective employees, he said.

"People who will work hard, who care, who show up on time," Brown said.

And by the end of the six years in the program -- four in high school and two at the Palatine community college -- those will be the hallmarks of Promise graduates, giving them solid job prospects, officials say.

"It's less about ability, and it's more about your perseverance, your perseverance to overcome obstacles and stay on course," Brown said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Brown and his wife, Anna, are the chairs of a fundraising campaign that vows to raise $5 million before the first group of Promise students arrive at Harper in 2019. The college's board of trustees have agreed to set aside another $5 million from the general fund's reserves to pay for the scholarships.

On Monday, the couple announced they would be donating $250,000 toward the program, while Ender and his wife, Cathy, pledged $100,000.

Besides developing the benchmarks, companies also will give Promise students priority interviews and hiring, as well as a chance to shadow current employees.

"We have to do something to create opportunities in our community for our students to become workers that can earn a living wage to take care of their families," District 214 Superintendent Dan Schuler said. "This does that for everybody."

Without the Promise scholarship, Ivette's mom, Eliza Zermeno, a hair stylist, and her dad would struggle, economically, to help their "daughter to achieve her dreams." Ivette would be the first in her family to go to college.

"I'm sure it will mean the world to them to see their first child go to college or a university and graduate," she said.

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