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Image: Bob Hildreth

AEOA scholarship helped Bob Hildreth

Changing gears

Scholarships support adults seeking new skills and careers


“How am I going to pay the bills?” thought Bob Hildreth, the day in 2007 when he was laid off from Ainsworth in Grand Rapids, where he had worked as a millwright for 10 years.

Hildreth filed for unemployment and headed back to school on the federal dislocated worker program. When he graduated from Mesabi Range College in 2009, though, the job market was even worse. With few prospects and no more resources to fund additional education, Hildreth wasn’t sure what to do. Then a relative told him about the Adult Scholarship program administered by the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA).

The Adult Scholarship program doesn’t just give local adults money to go back to college, it helps them find a career path. A career counselor works with each participant to determine what education they need to pursu ea career that fits not only the student specifically, but also the Itasca County area as a whole.

Hildreth applied to AEOA at the same time a new Industrial Technology and Power Generation program was starting at Itasca Community College (ICC) to build an employee pool for Minnesota Power. It seemed like a perfect fit. Wanting to stay in the area, Hildreth, who lives in Coleraine, considered Minnesota Power one of the key employers in Itasca County and became a member of the first “Power Gen” class.

Support translates to success

The biggest challenge of being a full-time student wasn’t the countless hours of studying. It was the economic impact the choice would have on his family, particularly during a recession. “Being a student doesn’t pay very well,” he said. “I have a family, I had heating bills and a mortgage to pay. There just wasn’t a lot of flexibility.”

The Adult Scholarship program provides up to $4,000 to each participant, of which up to $2,000 can be used for living expenses, daycare and even mileage. Traditional scholarships and Pell grants will only help pay for books and tuition costs.

“Getting this scholarship lifted a huge weight off my shoulders,” Hildreth said. In fact, he says that taking away some of that worry was part of the reason for his success. Hildreth also credits the career counseling part of the AEOA adult education program in his success. “Tawnya was very helpful and clear on what goals I needed to achieve,” he said.

Tawnya Maras, case manager for the program since its inception in 2003, assists participants like Hildreth in developing education and employment plans. Working with Hildreth was a real joy, she said.

“It’s so nice to see people succeed,” said Maras. “Some people don’t know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but then they complete the program, find a job and they become self-sufficient. It is very rewarding.”

The Adult Scholarship program was designed to benefit what Maras refersto as “the gray area”: adults in lower middle-income and working poor households who do not qualify for full federal or state post-secondary grants, but need financial assistance to earn a degree or certification.

Economic transformation

Gwen Grell has been the director of the Adult Scholarship program since 2003. “An educational foundation is essential for economic vitality, and people lacking education have trouble competing in the workforce,” she said. “This program is set up to assist Itasca County adults who want to stay in Itasca County with moving up the economic ladder. With the current economic downturn, it is more important than ever to assist this population with attaining the education and skills that they need to be competitive in this difficult job market.”

Approximately 60 Itasca County adults are enrolled currently in the program. Most attend ICC (47 percent) or Hibbing Community College (22 percent); 15 percent have attended Bemidji State. Additional partnerships have been made with Northwest Technical College in Bemidji and St. Scholastica and Lake Superior College in Duluth. Fields of study vary: dental hygiene, law enforcement and nursing, business, diesel mechanics, electricians or power generation like Bob Hildreth.

Today Hildreth is an environmental system operator at Minnesota Power’s Boswell Energy Center in Cohasset. He was hired two weeks before graduating in May 2011. He hopes to land other employment opportunities at Minnesota Power as they arise, and retire from there.

Want to apply?

You may qualify for an AEOA scholarship if

  • You are 25 years of age or older
  • Live in Itasca County
  • Plan to live and work in Itasca County upon completion of schooling
  • Meet income guidelines that are 275% of federal poverty guidelines or below (adult supporting afamily of 4 can earn $6,192 a month or less)
  • Maintain at least a “C” (2.0) grade-point average during the program

Adult scholarships make a difference

  • Since 2003, approximately 150 Itasca area adults have received AEOA Adult Scholarships.
  • 80 of them already have found jobs in their respective fields.
  • Roughly 60 percent of those people were unemployed when they started the program.
  • Others have increased their wages between $5 to $10 more an hour.

The Adult Scholarship program has distributed $1.292 million in Blandin Foundation grant funds since 2003. The Foundation also provides scholarships for high school seniors and young adults directly through its Education Awards Program, and through a grant to Itasca Community College. For more information, visit the “Apply for a Scholarship” page of the Foundation’s Itasca area website:

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