2018 Edgewood College Community
Committed to Students and
Alex Okelue (l-r), Vivi Velasquez and Venab Nasid are the
2018 Edgewood College Community Scholars who perform
campus and community service in fulfillment of their
tuition plus scholarships.
Alex Okelue had been in the UW-Madison PEOPLE Program in middle school and when he began his tenure at West High. Okelue looks the part of a high school
athlete, but wanted to avoid the stereotypes and the negative messages to not achieve academically. So Okelue surrounded himself with people who would support
his efforts to get to the collegiate level.
“I got involved with the MAC (Multicultural Achievement Committee) Scholars program, a program that originally came from Shaker Heights, Ohio,” Okelue said. “It
was made for minority males to help decrease the achievement gap and create a path to college access. I joined my sophomore year and as the years went by, our
numbers grew. I helped try to motivate students and change the culture for mainly African American and Latino male students at West High School. We wanted to
instill strong values like being hard-working, commitment, perseverance and determination into their lives in school and out-of-school. We acted as mentors. We
used to have a meeting twice a month. We gave presentations on topics like studying for finals, hyper-masculinity and stuff that they could use as they go being a
male student of color in a predominantly white institution.”
When Venab Nasid’s home life started to break apart while a student at West High School, she began to take responsibility for her own life and the lives of those
around her. A Muslim American, Nasid was particularly concerned with how Muslims were being portrayed in the media and decided to do something about it.
“I saw how we were talked about as these radical terrorists,” Nasid said. “I don’t see that when I look at my other siblings who are also Muslim. I didn’t want them to
think of themselves in that way. Basically I saw that we shouldn’t just sit there and allow our own image to be spoken about for us. Instead, if we want to have a
good reputation, we might as well make it ourselves. I went to the local Islamic Sunday School. And basically there, a lot of the kids are refugees and they don’t
understand English. I taught them a little bit about what was happening through Arabic and how to cope with that in a positive way. I used my ability through
forensics, speech and debate. I volunteered there every Sunday. That led me to go through 360 Leadership Plus. It’s a collective. They take kids from different states
from throughout the United States and send them on a fully-funded study abroad. The students go there with a purpose. The students have to send them a mini-
proposal. I sent mine in and thank God I was selected. I got sent to India. I combined what I was talking about here in the United States with a lot of the local kids in
India. Not only did I talk to kids in the United States, but I also got the chance to volunteer and talk with kids in India as well. That influenced me and turned what was
happening into a positive thing. And I think if I hadn’t realized that I had that ability, I probably wouldn’t have been selected as a Community Scholar. I got to go to
India the summer of my junior year. That was after I started volunteering near the end of it. I really, really got involved more at the beginning of my senior year. I
altered goals. I didn’t just talk with Muslim American students. I talked with African American students and Asian American students. I met this one Muslim student
from Bolivia. That was super cool. I was trying to create a pan-unification within the small community of Madison.”
Nasid wasn’t finished yet. When the call to do something about school violence, she heeded the call. She helped organize the Madison area’s March for Our Lives.
“The first person who actually started the March for Our Lives was Lydia Hester at East High School,” Nasid said. “She contacted me and two other girls at West High
School. Basically from there, we contacted a few other kids from each high school in the Madison area. We created this March for Our Lives and Save Our Students
walk-out, which had 2,000 students participate. We had a lot of supporters from the First Presbyterian Church, Whole Foods and Target that actually supplied a lot of
supplies. We started a fundraiser and we ordered buses and shuttles from each of the schools. Those who had access to Madison Metro, we told them to take Metro
Six. We all met up outside of East High School. We marched all the way up to the Capitol and around the square. Several people gave speeches including Lydia
Hester, me and the other two students at West. It wasn’t mainly social media driven. It was primarily us taking the day off and going to those schools and talking with
students. What I realized is that face-to-face is always so much stronger than a text message.”
All three Community Scholars are going to be involved with younger students, helping them develop pathways to higher education.
“The Community Scholars scholarship really helped me continue school because there is no way that I would have continued school being a first-generation
student,” Velasquez said. “And as a DACA student, I don’t qualify for federal financial aid. It gave me a lift. I get to be here for four years and not pay tuition at all. With
that, I’m planning to go back to my Latino leadership group at Waunakee help those juniors and seniors think about their future and to open up and continue being
who they are.”
While Okekue plans to get involved at West High, Nasid decided to do something new.
“I haven’t really involved myself that much in the Boys & Girls Club here in Dane County,” Nasid saaid. “I really want to start volunteering there because I used to go
there when I was 10-years-old. I still remember all of the friends that I had there and the stuff we did. Although we all came from different backgrounds and
experiences, we all put that aside when we were there. I thought that was really, really beautiful. I want to dedicate some time volunteering there.”
And all three scholars chose Edgewood College, at least in part, because it was small enough to get their heads around. Through West High, Okelue met other
Community Scholars and they gave him a sales pitch for Edgewood.
By Jonathan Gramling
Since 2006, Edgewood College has brought three or more bright, community-minded students to their
campus through the Community Scholars program, often times first-generation students who wouldn’t
have been able to afford to attend Edgewood without the tuition, books and school supplies
scholarship. In return, the students are asked to continue to do their thing by getting engaged in the
campus and community.
The 2018 Community Scholars are notable for their dedication to their fellow students in the face of
When Donald Trump was elected in 2016 and immediately started threatening President Obama’s
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Vivi Velasquez, a DACA student at Waunakee High
School, decided to do something about it. She started a group for Latino and other students that grew to
13 students by the end of its first year.
“That was around the time when we were starting to think about college,” Velasquez said. “Our future
was on the line. In addition to being there for one another, we also offered each other support and
information about college. The teachers also helped us out. We also did a lot of tutoring and mentoring
with younger kids. We helped them explore things they could do later in high school. We also talked
about our group and how they could also have people there for them. They also started their Little
Dreamers group. That was really cool, leaving high school and having younger kids looking up to us. It
also felt good to start something that is continuing.”
“They told me that it is a small school with a big school vibe,” Okelue said. “I really
liked that because I always liked the big school of UW-Madison, but I really liked the
small class sizes. The think I really liked about Edgewood is the faculty and the
people here really show genuinely that they support you and want you to the best that
you can. That’s what really caught my eye. I felt I would just be a number at a bigger
institution. Here at Edgewood, I would just be a regular face. I liked that a lot, so I
decided to choose Edgewood. I toured Edgewood. I liked it. It seems okay, very clean
and nice. I thought it would be a nice school to be at for four years.”
The Community Scholars are used to being scholars of color in predominantly white
institutions. Entering Edgewood College for Okelue and Nasid, it means going into a
less diverse environment.
“One thing I am concerned about is meeting people who aren’t aware of things or
issues, people who normally don’t become aware of them in their hometowns,”
Okelue said. “Edgewood is surrounded by a lot of people out of Madison. I’m
interested in how things will play when situations or issues come up that they are not
aware of and how people will act.”
While there may be those concerns, all three students are looking forward to
embracing everything that Edgewood has to offer.
“I’m thinking about the change,” Velasquez said. “You’re going from high school to
college. You’re doing all of this and then you are going to college and you are on your
own having to take care of yourself. I know that Edgewood does a lot of community
stuff. I want to get involved in that. They do a lot of events. I’m really excited about the
events that they plan because they are pretty fun.”
And Community Scholars will allow Okelue to become who he is and not what others
expect him to be.
“The Community Scholars program really helped me with the financial part of school,”
Okelue said. “If it weren’t for the program, personally I wouldn’t be at Edgewood. I
probably would have had to pursue a career in sports to help pay for school. I really
liked how it allowed me to focus more on school and not use athletics to get me
The 2018 Community Scholars are set to make their mark on Edgewood College and
beyond. And students everywhere will benefit from their commitment to students and