‘I don’t think I would be here without the help of NCPA:’ Nebraska College Preparatory Academy paves way for student success

Maria Dominguez earned her undergraduate degree in Agricultural Engineering on Dec. 15 during the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony.

Maria Dominguez walked across the stage during Undergraduate Commencement at Pinnacle Bank Arena in December with a degree in hand and a smile beaming from her face.

The degree represented years of hard work for the first-generation Agricultural Engineering major that began years before she took her first step on campus.

Growing up in Grand Island, Nebraska, the idea of attending college never entered Dominguez’s mind. That changed in seventh-grade, when she learned about the Nebraska College Preparatory Academy (NCPA).

The NCPA prepares first-generation students for college and their future careers by providing a combination of curriculum and access to a community of academic support and personal development opportunities. Additionally, NCPA college scholars receive full financial assistance to pay the cost of college.

Dominguez said she didn’t realize the opportunities NCPA provided until her freshman year of high school when she met with her counselors a week before applications were due.

“I just remember filling out the application the day before it was due and translating it back and forth with my parents because they didn’t know English very well at the time,” Dominguez said.

She was accepted into the program shortly after submitting her application, marking the start of her journey toward becoming the first college graduate in her family. Throughout high school, Dominguez said the support she received from NCPA pushed her to continue excelling in the classroom.

“There was such a great level of trust between me and the counselors,” Dominguez said. “I cared so much about completing the NCPA program, and my counselors felt like a family I could go to.”

With the resources she needed to succeed, Dominguez graduated from Grand Island Senior High School in 2019, ready to take the next step toward becoming a college graduate as an NCPA college scholar at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Dominguez began her college career as a physics major. She followed that path for two years but felt she hadn’t truly found her passion yet. Thanks to the resources and academic support provided to college scholars in NCPA, Dominguez was able to find a program she truly connected with.

“I needed to try something else,” she said. “NCPA gave me the advice to continue searching until I found something I enjoyed.”

She landed on UNL’s Agricultural Engineering program. She said the program molded everything she loved about physics with the emphasis agricultural engineering places on machine design.

“I took that route and I have not regretted it since,” she said.

Dominguez’s future is bright. Following graduation, Dominguez will begin a career at Northrop Grumman in Aurora, Colorado as a software engineer in the company’s space sector. As she prepares for the next chapter of her life, she is thankful for NCPA and its donors who support the program.

“I know that NCPA has impacted not only my life, but the lives of everybody around me,” she said. “I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many people and NCPA has facilitated that,” she said. “I don’t think that I would have gotten here without the help of NCPA, so I’m always going to be so appreciative of it.”

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