Hard Work Pays Off

More than a decade ago, as part of ACT’s 50th anniversary celebration, ACT established the ACT Scholars Program, as part of a pair of endowments to nurture the academic talent of graduate and community college students at the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College. These two institutions share ACT’s passion for helping all students achieve their ambitions in college and their careers. ACT emphasized scholarships for students from populations for which the cost of higher education could have presented a significant barrier to college access and accomplishments.

We will feature ACT Scholar blogs regularly, to hear their stories and learn about their college-going journeys. Learn more about the ACT Scholar program.

photo of Nelson RhombergWhat was your motivation for going to college and earning a degree?

I have grown up differently than most of my friends. I was born in Haiti in 2001 in a very small village outside of Arcahaie. My family was very poor and my mom was trying to raise my brothers and sisters and me by herself. My job as a kid was to help take care of my younger siblings. I wasn’t able to go to school because my mom couldn’t afford to send me. In 2013, I was taken to a créche to be adopted along with my little brother. We were adopted and moved to Iowa in 2016. I was 15 years old.

There are so many kids in Haiti who do not have the opportunity to go to school at all, which makes me appreciate it more that I get that chance.

What are you currently studying? What degree will you earn?

My major is liberal arts at Kirkwood. I hope to do well in my two years at Kirkwood and then plan to transfer to the University of Northern Iowa to finish my education degree. I see myself teaching PE and coaching middle school basketball someday.

Who inspired or supported you in your college-going journey?

My family and teachers, and especially my high school basketball coach, have always really believed in me. My coach knows me really well and has seen me work with kids. He’s the one who suggested that I should think about being a teacher.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a first-generation college student?

My adoptive parents have college degrees, but my mom in Haiti has never been to school or learned to read or write. Since I was adopted at age 15, I remember my life in Haiti very well. Growing up in Haiti and not being able to be in school put me way behind. But that’s just how things are in Haiti. My biggest challenge was coming to America and testing at an early elementary school level. I had to work very hard to catch up, and I don’t think I ever did catch up to my classmates, but I made really great progress and I’m very proud that I graduated.

What advice would you give to a first-generation college student today? 

I would tell them that hard work pays off and even if you come from a hard background. Hard work is something you can control. Be grateful for your opportunities, be a good person, pray, and work hard. Everything will work out if you have that attitude.

What goals have you set for yourself?

My goal is to get a four-year degree and have a career in education. I love being in the school environment– I love helping people and I hope this will also allow me to spend some time in Haiti each summer.

Nelson Rhomberg is a sophomore at Kirkwood Community College and plans to graduate in May 2023.  He loves to play basketball, work hard, and help other people. He is very grateful to have the opportunity to attend college at Kirkwood.