In Eastern Oregon, It’s The Promise Of A New Future

Jacob Banks used to dream of being a hero on television. He wanted to be Tom Brady.

But the 16-year-old high school junior changed his mind. He still wants to be a hero, but instead of chasing the all-too-elusive dream of playing in the NFL, Banks decided he wanted to seek something more attainable and meaningful.

"My plan was to be in the NFL, which was unrealistic,” Jacob said. “I have changed that to be a lot more realistic. Instead of trying to go into the NFL, I am going to go to college and try to be an EMT.”

Jacob is just one of thousands of students experiencing a life change thanks to Eastern Promise, a collaboration between Eastern Oregon University, the InterMountain Education Service District (IMESD), Blue Mountain and Treasure Valley community colleges, and 22 eastern Oregon school districts.

Through a series of innovative programs, Eastern Promise sets out to increase the number of eastern Oregon high school students who attend college or seek post-secondary training to pursue employment in the real world.

Students participate in college-level courses and earn credits while in high school. But the value is so much greater than just college credits. Eastern Promise offers life-changing experiences that these students will carry with them through high school, college and beyond, while passing on a college-bound mindset to the next generation.
The program allows students to start early with their courses, but also helps families attain significant college financial savings.

The Eastern Promise Initiative Success 101 program uses a curriculum called Career Choices to give 9th grade students the opportunity to earn college credits as they begin to develop a 10-year plan for success. It’s a program that’s part of the Get Focused...Stay Focused!® Initiative that has spurred successful collaboration among colleges and high school throughout California and now in Eastern Oregon.

Led by Eastern Promise executive director Dr. Dan Mielke, students are taking control over their futures. They are breaking cycles. They are pushing ahead with one goal in mind: success not only in high school and college, but in career and life as well.

 “We have two overarching goals,” Mielke said. “We want to increase access to early college credit and we want to build a college-going culture in our region. Contrary to common belief, not everyone needs to go to college, but everyone has to do something after high school.”

Eastern Promise brings together a team of educators who are revolutionizing education and changing the lives of students who may not typically have had equal access to educational opportunities. Teachers, counselors and administrators work with students to create a plan to achieve success and teach them the tools they need to sustain success once it comes.

The program guides students through activities that aid with identity formation, a natural and necessary part of adolescent development. As students form a vision of what they would like their future to look like, the process teaches day-to-day and long-term planning skills, such as how to write a check, balance a budget and prepare a monthly expense sheet. They also learn about federal and state financial aid opportunities.

Shelby Smith, a 14-year-old freshman, said of her experience in the program:

"I have learned how to budget my money and how to manage it and set it up so that I can support my lifestyle. I also learned how to stay away from debt and how to make sure I have enough money so that if I end up going out of work I am able to support myself still.”

At the core of the program is what Mielke and educators call the 5 Pillars for success:

  1. A commitment to a cross sector collaborative between universities, community colleges, education service districts, and high schools.
  2. A credit by proficiency early college credit offering built-in professional learning communities.
  3. Build a college-going culture through the Academic Momentum program.
  4. Initiate a college credit career choices class in high schools that feature the Career Choices 10-year plan.
  5. Increase opportunities for at-risk, underserved, and underrepresented populations.

Much of the success of the program is connected to the idea of building a college-going culture through the Academic Momentum program. In 5th grade, students, parents and schools sign a contract that says the student will work toward developing academic habits to prepare them for post-secondary education or training. Students also visit college campuses to view college life.

From there students participate in modules every year designed to make college and post-secondary education part of their normal way of life. This process helps lay the groundwork so that, as 9th grade students, they can develop 10-year plans that will greatly increase their chances of finishing college and entering the workforce.

So far 33 high schools in 15 Eastern Oregon districts have implemented the Academic Momentum program to reach 2,000 students. The Success 101 program that begins in 9th grade has reached another 1,000 students.

Nicole Stewart, a Pendleton High School teacher, said she sees her students’ worlds changing on a daily basis.

“With a 10-year plan not only do students get to decide their own future and their own plan, but they then they invest in their current high school situation. These hoops that you have to jump through are going to become way more important to you if you understand the goal at the end is your goal.”

To learn more about the program contact: Dan Mielke, executive director, Eastern Promise,, or visit: