When Evan Mitchell enrolled in his first collegiate level course at Rochester Community Technical College (RCTC) three and a half years ago, he didn’t know that he had just taken his first steps toward achieving his dreams.

Mitchell, from Rochester, Minn., grew up in a single parent household and often felt the odds were stacked against him. Entering college as a first-generation student, (http://www.winona.edu/firstgenwarrior/) he soon learned his odds hadn’t improved much, considering only 24 percent of first generation students graduate within six years of enrolling and nearly 20 percent leave college entirely.

Mitchell determined early on that education was “the way to become a better person and to have a better life than what my childhood had been.” With the assistance of TRIO services like Upward Bound and WSU’s Student Support Services, Mitchell continued working toward his goal. He applied for and received scholarships, including the Bublitz Sociology & Criminal Justice and the Federated Insurance Paralegal/Communications/Criminal Justice.

Even with support, Mitchell’s road was not without difficulty. At RCTC, he took 20 credits per semester in addition to working part time. After graduating with honors from RCTC, he transferred to Winona State to pursue a degree in criminal justice law enforcement and a minor in child advocacy studies.  Law enforcement is a “natural fit,” said Mitchell. “I view service as a way I can repay all the people who have helped me throughout my life.”

Mitchell currently serves as a part-time police officer for both the La Crescent and West Concord police departments. In December 2014, he will graduate from WSU with honors, completely debt-free thanks to hard work and scholarships. Mitchell plans to pay it forward and set up an education trust to help kids in similar positions. “When I was younger I never thought I had a chance at the ‘American Dream’ because of how all the odds were stacked against me. I am living proof that dreams do become reality!”