First cohort of ‘Rising Phoenix’ students ready to take flight

Nadia Neziri
Rising Phoenix graduate Nadia Neziri. Photo by Manu Jünemann

Among the 1,000-plus students receiving diplomas at UW-Green Bay’s May 14, 2022 Spring/Summer Commencement will be 20 students who won’t even graduate from high school until mid-June.

These Manitowoc Lincoln High School seniors comprise the first cohort of students graduating from the Rising Phoenix Early College High School Program. It offers students the opportunity to get a head start on earning college credits through dual enrollment with the opportunity to earn an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree while still in high school.

The Manitowoc Public School District launched the inaugural cohort in 2020. Since then, Rising Phoenix has expanded to Two Rivers High School, Mishicot High School, Marinette High School, and a state-wide cohort through Wisconsin’s GEAR UP program.

Nadia Neziri

Nadia Neziri. Photo by Manu Jünemann

“Our goal,” said Meagan Strehlow, associate executive officer, K-12 & Community Relations, “is to create a path to higher education by providing the opportunity to get a head start on a college degree while also having a strong support system in place to help students succeed.”

That’s what attracted Nadia Neziri to the program.

“I had been talking to my counselors about ways to earn some college credits while I was still in high school,” said Neziri. “My mom had heard about this program and told me about it. It was exactly what I was looking for.”

Neziri was able to earn her final high school credits (a Spanish class) her junior year and immediately began to take classes on the UW-Green Bay Manitowoc campus. Two years later, she will be graduating with high school diploma and her Associate degree in Arts & Sciences.

“I stayed engaged with my high school clubs and other activities,” said Neziri, “but, for the past two years, I’ve been pretty much on the Green Bay campus full time.

“The transition to college classes was not too difficult for me,” she continued, “because I like to write, and there’s a ton of writing in college. I’m not generally a very good test-taker, so being able to write so much worked out for me.

“I know some of the other students were a bit more stressed because the workload is higher and the classwork is weighted differently than in high school,” Neziri said. “We met monthly with our coach, and that gave us a chance to talk to her and to each other about how things were going and how to solve problems.”

The coach she talks about is Angel Gelhar, officially the Rising Phoenix Student Success coach for the Rising Phoenix High School College program.

“Many of our Rising Phoenix students work part time, are involved in clubs at their high school, and have a couple high school classes in addition to their college coursework,” said Gelhar. “These students impress me with their ability to adjust to new environments and expectations so quickly. In our one-on-one meetings, I enjoy building trust with each student so that they feel comfortable sharing the highs and lows of academics and life. It is humbling to walk alongside them on this journey and to support them through their success and setbacks.”

“All Rising Phoenix students work closely with their coach,” said Strehlow. “The coach provides academic advising and social/emotional support throughout the program. Our coaches help students build the skills they need to be successful during the program and beyond.”

Neziri agreed that the program helped her mature as an individual and as a student

“Of course, there was a benefit to getting all my gen eds done and paid for through the program,” Neziri said, “but I learned a lot more than just what was taught in class. I matured a lot going through the program.”

Neziri recalled one class that, while it was the most challenging, brought her the most growth.

“I took a level two Biology class that really challenged me,” she said. “I had never had much science in school and never any Chemistry. Sometimes my biggest challenge was staying motivated to keep going. I was proud of myself for working through it.

“It’s hard to say what my favorite class was,” Neziri said, “because I really enjoyed them all, even the really challenging ones. I would say the ones I most enjoyed were English and Writing because I like to write and the teacher was fantastic.”

If she equivocates about favorite classes, Neziri does not hesitate when discussing her plans to continue her education and pursue a career.

“I’ll be coming back to UW-Green Bay in the fall and living on (the Green Bay) campus,” she said. “Right now, I have an internship at the nature preserve in Two Rivers. I’m really interested in environmental science and environmental policy, so this is the school to go to. I expect to major in one of those areas and minor in the other or pursue a double major. I’m also considering a master’s degree in the field.”

Neziri is proud to think that she and her peers in this first cohort may have helped the Rising Phoenix program itself mature.

“I think there are plenty of smart high school students who would be interested in this program, especially if their families don’t have the money for college or they are the first in their family to attend college,” she said. “I think being the first group has helped the program administrators firm up the admissions criteria and the support to make this opportunity available to others who otherwise might not have it.”

Story by Jim Streed ’05

Photo by Manu Jünemann

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