The Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence program recently appointed its former assistant director as its new director in mid-October.

Gail Ford has been the PEOPLE assistant director for the last four years and has been with the program for a total of eight. Ford has over 15 years of leadership experience in the college access field.

According to its website, PEOPLE was established in 1999 and offers two programs. One program is specific to preparing pre-college students to apply to a UW System institute, with an emphasis on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. This program “is designed for low-income and potential first generation college students,” while the other program serves college students on the UW-Madison campus who completed the precollege program. 

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While Ford was never personally involved in a precollege program growing up, she tagged along with one of her sisters who was. Ford said she might not be where she is today without that exposure.

“I wasn’t in the precollege program, but I got to experience a lot of things that my sister did, which actually led me to go to the university that was her sponsoring institution for the precollege program,” Ford said. “So, I like to call it the ripple effect, because even one person in the household in a precollege program gives the learning to everybody else in the household.”

As the new director, Ford hopes PEOPLE can provide support to its students and prepare them for the post-college world. She said PEOPLE wants their students to be a part of the “badger experience.”

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Ford also wants to bring PEOPLE student success stories to a national stage, as she said Wisconsin is consistently rated last in serving its African-American students. Ford said she wants PEOPLE to be an example for other programs.

“I think that the program is doing some really great work in a state where what’s happening is consistently at the bottom of the list, dead last, for African-Americans,” Ford said. “I’m really hoping that we can provide a pathway and an example on how to work with African-Americans in a state that particularly does not serve them well.”

Ford said PEOPLE hopes to be a program that supports diversity to ensure the UW campus is accessible to all populations. Ford said she envisions the PEOPLE program as the borders of the university reaching out to the borders of the state so the people of Wisconsin can be successful, no matter their background.

The PEOPLE program, Ford said, hopes to support UW’s mission around diversity. To Ford, diversity, as well as the PEOPLE program, should be considered assets.

“Diversity is an asset — it’s not a liability,” Ford said. “Programs that are helping to assist the university with that mission, such as the PEOPLE program, should also be viewed as an extreme asset to the campus and to the state.”