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University of Minnesota
March 16, 2011
Tex Ostvig tries to create a fun and positive on-campus experience for students, as well as a great memory of the University of Minnesota.
Photo: Patrick O'Leary
Tex Ostvig has brought youth by the thousands to the U to explore a college education
By Rick Moore
If you spend much time on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis, chances are you’ll see an enthusiastic man with a wrestler’s build leading groups of grade-school kids.
He’s William “Tex” Ostvig, and among the labels he ascribes to himself are Mexican, coach, father, and educator, which all happen to be relevant in his work. And once you watch him in action, you could also add pied piper, leader, and U of M ambassador extraordinaire.
Ostvig coordinates the U Connects Kids on Campus program, designed to bring Minnesota youth—many of whom do not have the University or any other college on their radar— to campus and expose them to the possibilities of a college education.
Since the program began in 2007, he’s brought more than 10,000 impressionable students to the U. (“I kind of feel like McDonald’s—‘10,000 served,’” Ostvig jokes.) Just getting them here doesn’t ensure that anyone will choose to attend the U or any other college, but it does open up a new world.
“Research is showing that this is one of many steps needed to make sure that our youth continue education beyond high school,” Ostvig says.
‘Who do you want to be when you grow up?’
A week before spring break at the U, Ostvig is giving his introductory spiel to a group of middle school students from Washington County in the state-of-the-art new Science Teaching and Student Services Building.
“It’s always a great day at the U when we have youth on campus,” he tells them, “because you are the future.”
He writes down the four adjectives that describe him and asks the students to come up with four of their own. Then he challenges them to look to the future, but with a new lens. Instead of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he asks them “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” He emphasizes traits they can control: honesty, integrity, and work ethic.
“It wasn’t until I came [to the University of Minnesota] that I figured out what my identity was,” Ostvig explains. College “allows you to discover who you want to be.”
Next on the agenda are some puzzles that get progressively harder, stretching the students’ minds a bit.
“College will teach you to think outside the box,” Ostvig tells them. “We are facing a lot of problems in this world and in the nation. If we can’t solve the problems of today, who’s going to solve them tomorrow?”
“We are!” came the emphatic answer.
“Life is about problem solving. Education is about teaching you how to solve problems,” Ostvig says. “If you never get to college, in my opinion you’ll never have the chance to reach your full potential.”
A hands-on approach to problem solving
Ostvig also has students build their own rockets, in this case made from a drinking straw, paper, tape, and clay. Once they assemble their rockets, they get to shoot them from a launching device, and based on how well they travel, Ostvig offers suggestions for tweaking the design.
“This rocket is you in the sense that every one of you has the potential to fly to great heights,” he says. But “if you don’t know how to apply yourself academically, you won’t get far.”
While Ostvig fills much of the time with entertaining, hands-on activities, there’s also a significant sell on the economic impact of a college education. He points out that on average, a high school dropout can expect to earn no more than $24,000 a year, not even enough to buy a house. The annual income increases to $32,000 with a high school degree and $39,000 with a two-year college degree.
But with a four-year college degree the average income climbs to $53,000, and Ostvig notes that in general, people with a college degree can expect to earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than those without a degree.
That’s not rocket science, or even straw rocket science, and it’s something that makes an impression: A college education can offer a clear path to financial success.
But Ostvig stresses that college is about more than that. It’s about becoming a better global citizen and making a difference.
He shared with one group that his mother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease, a story that’s difficult to tell. And one of the students, a fourth grader, was moved enough to dream big.
“Mr. Tex, I’m sorry your mom died of Alzheimer’s disease,” said the student. “But now that you’ve told me about it, I want to learn more. I want to cure Alzheimer’s disease.”
If that’s who she wants to be and if Kids on Campus could help nurture the notion, then it's another great day for Tex Ostvig.
The Kids on Campus program is housed in the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE), part of the Office for Equity and Diversity. For more information, contact MCAE at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-624-6386.