Mini-grants support first-generation students


Jeff Danna 
Communications Manager 

For immediate release 

Stephanie Leon

DUBUQUE, Iowa — Dubuque resident Stephanie Leon knew since attending Wahlert Catholic High School that she wanted to attend college, but her family’s financial situation put her at a disadvantage.  

After ruling out colleges based on their cost, she spent a semester at Northeast Iowa Community College, where a director connected her with Loras College. Because of her grades, she qualified for scholarships at Loras that helped make the cost more affordable. Still, affording other aspects of college has been challenging. That’s why she applied for a “mini-grant” from the Dubuque College Access Network (DCAN), an initiative of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque. 

“Because of the mini-grant, I was able to afford my textbooks for fall semester, and the money I saved can be put toward my spring textbooks,” Leon says. 

Leon is one of seven college or college-bound students from Dubuque who received a total of $1,000 in “mini-grants” from DCAN, an initiative aimed at helping make post-high school education a reality for more students. Grants averaged about $150 per person and enabled the students to purchase essential supplies for their studies, such as textbooks, graphing calculators and laptops. 

“Reading all the applications, it immediately became clear that there are so many legitimate needs — many more than we can address with $1,000,” says Donna Loewen, the Community Foundation’s DCAN coordinator. "Importantly, we were able to make a difference for seven students, easing the burden of college expenses.” 

To qualify, applicants had to be the first in their family to attend college, come from a low-income background, or be students of color. The criteria were in keeping with DCAN’s goal of addressing Dubuque’s workforce needs through access to post-secondary education and training, with particular attention to populations of students less likely to pursue education or career training after high school. 

“Although I’m not involved with direct service to students in my role, I get great satisfaction from encounters with students I may have first met when they were in elementary school and I was their principal,” says Loewen, a former Dubuque Community School District elementary principal. “It’s wonderful to see them access and attain their goals.” 

The mini-grants represent just one way DCAN supports students in their college and career ambitions. With a network that includes representatives from higher education, K-12 education, government, nonprofits and businesses, DCAN works to implement policies and programs that reduce barriers to post-secondary education and training. DCAN also organizes events, such as panel discussions with first-generation students, that inform and inspire college-bound youth. 

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The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque envisions a vibrant and inclusive Dubuque region where everyone can thrive. Since 2002, we have inspired people to give back to their community, and we turn this generosity into lasting change across our region, increasing access to resources and opportunities that help all people succeed.   

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