Karla Madrigal can attest to the transformative power of the University of Iowa’s pen pal program.
The program’s new coordinator once participated as a fourth grader at West Liberty Elementary School, exchanging letters with a UI student throughout the school year before visiting campus for the first time that spring. Madrigal (22BA) later became a first-generation college student and studied social work at Iowa.
“This program was one that inspired me to attend the University of Iowa myself,” she says.
The pen pal program partnership between the UI’s Center for Inclusive Academic Excellence and the West Liberty School District began 30 years ago to encourage grade-school students to practice their writing skills and explore their academic interests. Through letter writing, children who might not have thought about college before receive an introduction from students actively involved in the university setting. Ideally, Madrigal says this awareness may influence young students to see the importance of academic motivation and success.
Next month, Madrigal welcomes more than 100 fourth-grade students from West Liberty Elementary School to the UI, where they will tour campus and meet the Hawkeye pen pals they have been exchanging letters with since October.
Maria Sanchez (19BA), community outreach officer for the UI Department of Public Safety and a volunteer with the pen pal program, says she looks forward to being a positive role model for the latest West Liberty students to participate.
“The pen pal letters I received as a fourth-grade student at West Liberty Elementary are personal to me, and I still have letters from a student who lived in Mayflower Hall,” she says. “That program was my first time ever visiting a college setting, and the first time I ever thought about being able to attend college.”