Gonzaga’s first cadre of Act Six scholars will be juniors this fall. They choose these words to describe what Act Six means to them: A blessing. Perseverance. Change. Life. Leadership. Direction.
“Act Six is always in the back of my mind,” said Anna Hester of Tacoma. Without it, she wouldn’t be at Gonzaga, where she loves the fact that God is discussed in classes. Take away Act Six, and Spokane’s Edwin Torres might still be weighing his options: auto mechanic, police officer or technical school. Instead, he’s an international studies major who enjoys supporting La Raza Latina. Torres is soft spoken and thoughtful.
It’s easy to see him becoming a powerful friend for any cause to which he devotes himself. “Act Six really opened doors for me. College is expensive,” he says.
Without Act Six, Mercedes Hayes, Kent, Wash., would not have co-founded Gonzaga’s gospel choir. “Act Six is like a framework for life. It has provided me with purpose and reason,” says Hayes, a communications major.
Tracy Ellis-Ward, director of Unity Multicultural Education Center, does much of the Act Six support work. “Working with the Act Six scholars has been one of the best representations of our faith-inspired commitment to diversity in action since my arrival at Gonzaga three years ago,” she said. “Members of the first cadre are learning to find their voice, and I have no doubt they will make a lasting impact on campus and beyond.”
Act Six founder Tim Herron, a former Tacoma math teacher, wants the students to practice leadership skills while earning their degrees, then to bring their expertise and commitment back into their communities. Ethnically diverse students make up a majority of Act Six scholars, but the program is open to all candidates. A collaborative approach creates Act Six scholarships. Scholars often qualify for government and private scholarships; Act Six networks with local funding resources; and Gonzaga makes up the difference.
Once high school seniors are admitted to Act Six, they are grouped into cadres. Training starts immediately on money management, time management and other topics. On campus, cadre members form their own safety net. They receive leadership training and academic support. Something’s working right: Act Six’s overall graduation rate surpasses 90 percent. “In an environment of unlimited resources, many more students could thrive holistically under such a model,” Ellis-Ward said.
Act Six scholar Oscar Marmelejo is an engineering student, who plays club hockey. He’s careful not to judge others, but to get to know them before forming an opinion. Last summer he ran a crew for Student Painters and grossed $40,000.
What makes him proud? “That’s hard to answer,” he says. “Knowing that people trust me to be responsible, that makes me proud. Being able to say that I am an engineer, it makes me proud. Being able to have fun and to succeed at the same time – that makes me proud.”