Crossing the Finish Line

The Last Mile program helped less privileged high school students prepare for college.
From left: Edina High School’s 2014 graduating class; Last Mile participants including Jeff Lu and Brandon Friedrichs, back right; Jeff Lu during his first semester of college.

When Jeff Lu moved to Edina from China in 2009, he barely knew English, let alone what the roadmap to college readiness should look like. Lu’s only brother had never attended college and opted out of moving to America, so that left Lu with his uncle and mother to turn to in Minnesota. The future seemed hazy, but things changed once Lu entered Edina Public Schools (EPS) at age 14 as an eighth-grader.

Lu’s English began to improve and he started to dream about what he could be and do in life. However, once he was a senior in the fall of 2013, he still wasn’t sure where or how to take that next step. That’s when Becky Briggs, an Edina High School (EHS) student support volunteer, invited Lu to join EPS’ Last Mile program designed to prepare and guide first-generation, low income students to college success.

Last year’s pilot program, made up of 26 students, met monthly to discuss how to find a college that matched their interests and prepare for the road that lay ahead. Mentors helped students with college test prep, arranged campus visits and outfitted them with knowledge, study skills, advice, laptops, bedding, backpacks—whatever the students needed for a successful transition from high school to college.

“My life has been forever changed by Becky and the entire Last Mile team,” Lu says. “I don’t feel alone in this process anymore because I have a mentor to guide me through unknown experiences, which I now realize is very beneficial.”

Lu’s classmate and fellow Last Mile participant Brandon Friedrichs says that the Last Mile has not only better prepared him for the college experience, but helped boost his confidence as well. Because of the Last Mile’s influence, Lu is currently studying hydrology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and Friedrichs is pursuing a degree in psychology at Mankato State University.

Edina Magazine caught up with these two students at the end of their first semester of college to see how they’re doing and what they’ve learned so far.

Favorite class so far?

JL: English. It’s a lot of writing, and I like to be creative and work on my writing skills.

BF: Anthropology. Two weeks into school I realized I was really interested in it, and now I am thinking about minoring in it.

How does it feel to finally be a college student?

JL: It’s really good. The Last Mile program taught me how to introduce myself to the teacher after the first day and how to email them when I have questions. That advice has been very helpful so far.

BF: It feels really good. I felt so prepared and had everything I needed to succeed in class. I also knew where everything was because I went through a tour with the Last Mile program.

What challenges have you faced?

JL: There is so much independence and you have to be responsible, which can be challenging if you don’t hold yourself accountable. A lot of teachers post homework online and you have to check your student account to make sure you don’t miss anything.

How has the Last Mile program changed your educational trajectory?

JL: Before joining the program, I was going to go to a different college, but the Last Mile helped me to find a better college that fit my interests. The college we found here at Stevens Point is great. I like it a lot! If it weren’t for Becky and the Last Mile team, I wouldn’t be where I am.

BF: The Last Mile taught us how to get involved in our classes and introduce ourselves to professors. That advice has been invaluable thus far, because the class sizes are a lot bigger [than high school classes.]

Have you had contact with anyone from The Last Mile?

JL: Oh, definitely. We talk every now and then and they encourage me to keep doing what I am doing and to keep studying. We talk about time management a lot, too.

BF: Jeff and I actually still talk every now and then—we have become good friends.

Goals for next semester?

JL: Goals for both the semesters is to get As and Bs.

BF: I want to continue doing well. I am also going to try and find a job next semester. The Last Mile prepared me for both of those things by helping me make a resume.