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Back to College: PEAK Alum Thriving in St. Olaf Nursing Program

PEAK Alum Gabriella Del Raso ('17) just entered her junior year at St. Olaf College. This month, she completed her first rounds at a local hospital through the college’s selective nursing program.

Even with supervision, "it was scary at first to take on independently all the checks and routines that are expected in a morning rounds," she said. Gaby isn’t letting that fear hold her back.

Gaby’s PEAK mentor Mary Drolet (President and Managing Partner at Horizon Brand Partners) acknowledges that Gaby’s confidence and achievements are impressive. “One thing I’ve seen Gaby learn to do, continue to do, and do more of, is to seize opportunities.”

Gabriella with her PEAK mentor, Mary Drolet

Gaby is not only a member of multiple clubs at St. Olaf including the Student Nurse Association, but even co-founded the first ever hip hop dance group at the college.

As Gaby continues to achieve milestones that she sets for herself — receiving a much-needed scholarship to college, being accepted to St. Olaf’s nursing program — Mary just gets prouder and prouder.

“I was Gaby’s mentor and [scholarship] sponsor, and it was the best money I ever spent,” Mary said.

Her own generosity aside, Mary made it crystal clear that “in the end, it was Gaby who made the difference for Gaby. I am really impressed by what she’s achieved. She’s done it all herself. With the support of her great high school and PEAK experience.”

Gaby credits her PEAK experience with making the difference for her by motivating her to seek out help each time she struggled academically. These lessons stuck with her. Now she remains the student who will ask professors for help and stay after class.

Gabriella on a recent visit to the PEAK office

When Gaby faces a challenge in college — the statistics class she is taking this quarter, for example — she told us, "I think of resources I can go to for help. I give myself time to make a plan and execute it.” Just like she learned in PEAK.

Gaby has faced more challenges in her first half of college than just one statistics class. “When I came in, I struggled with the adjustment … and ended up with grades that weren’t what I wanted or what I envisioned for myself.” At times it has been difficult for Gaby to come back from that rocky start and to achieve the GPA she always knew was her potential.

Gaby is far from alone. Most low-income students attending college face significant set-backs during their college experience, whether financial, social, or academic. In fact, according to a recent report from Washington-based think tank Third Way, only 55 percent of college students receiving federal loans graduate within six years at the average private nonprofit college. They may drop out due to financial pressures exacerbated by insufficient financial aid, they may be academically underprepared, or they may lack practical skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the college system.

PEAK provided Gaby a foundation for college persistence that many low-income students do not receive. By providing her with a scholarship to a nurturing, academically challenging high school, PEAK ensured Gaby would be academically ready for college. This supportive high school environment also connected Gaby with the counseling services she needed to navigate the college applications process and receive a great scholarship to a private college. Most critically to her college success, the PEAK mentoring program instilled in Gaby the habit to seek out help when she needs it.

Like most PEAK graduates, Gaby doesn’t lack for determination. After college, she plans to become a nurse practitioner — starting out as a registered nurse and working in a hospital for about a year before going back for her advanced degree.

Her mentor shed light on the motivation behind Gaby’s drive. “I remember when I met her, she said she wanted to be able to take care of her parents later in life, and I think that’s an incredible goal.”

Gaby is proud of her progress, saying that she is currently in the best place she could have hoped for when she was younger. “If I had gone to a different high school and didn’t have PEAK, I probably would not be where I am now."


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