For Wausau Pilot & Review

An innovative, inspirational scholarship program at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point has opened doors to higher education for promising students of color at some of the most underserved and challenged high schools in Wisconsin.

The Noel Compass Scholar Program, created in 1996 by Stevens Point residents John and Patty Noel, has provided nearly 50 students the financial and emotional support they need to succeed in college and in life. Through full tuition, room and board, as well as job experiences as paid interns at Noels’ business, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection in Stevens Point, the program has transformed lives.

The Noels, alumni of UW-Stevens Point, knew that the community would be welcoming and “would take the students under its wing.” The program has created a more diverse and culturally rich community, they said, and has created an extended family in which everyone offers each other support and encouragement. The group also gathers at an annual retreat, hosted by the Noels.

“We believe the students themselves are an inspiration, for their siblings, their families and for each other,” John Noel said.

It causes a ripple effect, Patty Noel added, as the new students see the success of the program’s graduates. “What I love is what they gain from each other. They all have a different story, but when they come together they see that others have struggles and have made it, and they know, ‘I can too.’”

The Compass Scholar Program is based on what Noels call the five ‘ships’ – scholarship, internship, mentorship, fellowship and leadership. Students graduate debt free and have a near 100 percent job placement in their majors or areas of interests.

“The Compass Scholar Program gave me a chance,” said Silvia Bautista, a 2012 graduate of UW-Stevens Point who now is a dentist in West Allis. “My scholar family is amazing and truly made a positive impact towards my successful educational career.”

Photo courtesy UWSP. Fiasa Falls, a junior sociology major, meets regularly with Sam Dinga, the Noel Compass Scholar mentoring and internships coordinator and director of the Diversity and College Access Office at UW-Stevens Point.

For junior sociology major Fiasa Falls, the program has offered her an extensive support system, which began with Andre Douglas at the Boys and Girls Club in Milwaukee. He urged her to apply for the scholarship the day it was due, knowing Falls enjoyed a multicultural leadership camp at UW-Stevens Point the previous summer.

“I didn’t think it was possible for me,” Falls said of the program, “but Andre kept pushing. I started to believe it could happen because he believed in me.”

Falls found a mentor in Sam Dinga, the Compass Scholar mentoring and internships coordinator at UW-Stevens Point. Like many first-year university students, Falls felt nervous and scared in her new environment. One of her first stops on campus was Dinga’s office.

“I went to meet with him, and just cried,” she said. “He told me that he would be my big brother here. I leaned on him every day.”

Dinga, director of UW-Stevens Point’s Diversity and College Access office in addition to his role with the Compass program, meets regularly with the scholars.

“I remind the scholars why they are here and reinforce that they’ve earned that,” he said. “I listen to them and ask them where they want to go. I reinforce that their ‘why’ is greater than their ‘how.’”

“The Compass Scholar Program has made me more confident in myself and who I should become,” Falls said. “By being mentored, I could become a mentor. I created strong relationships with other students, with my mentors, with my professors, and I learned how I could be of service to my community.”

In her three years at UW-Stevens Point, Falls has served as the historian, public relations director and president of the Black Student Union. She plans on finishing in three and a half years and graduating in December 2020, then taking a job in social work to gain experience before attending law school. Falls credits Douglas, Dinga, the Noels and Compass Scholar alumni with helping her succeed in college.

“I realized I have a good support system around me,” she said, “and that support will help me in the real world.”

The Noel Compass Scholar Program and UW-Stevens Point received the 2019 Ann Lydecker Educational Diversity Award from the State Council on Affirmative Action in October. Honorees were recognized at the Wisconsin State Capital Assembly Chambers.

“The Noels have dedicated their lives to helping others in Stevens Point, central Wisconsin and the world,” said Chancellor Bernie Patterson. “They are role models for our students who wish to make a difference in their local and international communities.”

Bautista hopes to pay the scholarship forward by using her career to help promote oral health care in underserved communities.

“John and Patty Noel inspired me with their selfless humanitarian actions,” she said. “They showed me that with heart and dedication, people can accomplish all their goals and dreams no matter their background.”

Source: UW-Stevens Point.

Feature photo courtesy UWSP. Several Noel Compass Scholars joined John and Patty Noel, Chancellor Bernie Patterson and Sam Dinga at the presentation of the 2019 Ann Lydecker Educational Diversity Award in Madison this fall.