Promoting Laker success

GVSU receives grant to support students who have been in foster care

By Jenna Fracassi | 6/4/17 10:06pm


GVL / Courtesy - University Communications Sharalle Arnold, left, and Marnie Parris-Bingle wrote a grant to establish support systems for students from the foster care system.

Grand Valley State University has recently been awarded a $375,000 grant to fund an initiative designed to support students who have experienced foster care. The three-year program, titled "Fostering Laker Success," is funded through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Sharalle Arnold, associate director of the Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity, and Marnie Parris-Bingle, academic advisor for TRiO Student Support Services, partnered together to co-author the grant. This was done in an effort to join the statewide initiative Fostering Success Michigan.

GVSU's Fostering Laker Success program will provide holistic services for students who have experienced foster care, essentially helping them with whatever needs they have in college. There will also be a team of peer mentors available to work with students, and a large portion of the grant’s funds are going toward hiring an independent life skills coach.

“The independent living skills coach will be a new hire at GVSU that will support case management and programming,” Arnold said. “The coach will support up to 25 students that have prior experience with foster care. So whether they’ve aged out, are exiting a home or entering college, this will be their opportunity to get the resources and the support that they need so that they persist and graduate.”

The Fostering Laker Success life skills coach is expected to be hired and trained by the start of the fall 2017 semester.

Parris-Bingle, who has experience working with foster care students, said the program includes a lot of liaison work to help students navigate college, which she said can be difficult without role models or parents.

“I’ve been studying these populations for so long because I work for TRiO programs, so I’ve had students over the years who had been in foster care or were orphaned, and there’s just a lot more, I would say, pitfalls for those students,” Parris-Bingle said. “They don’t have safety nets like other people, as far as someone to turn to if something doesn’t go well. 

In college they sometimes don’t have the emotional support that they need to know that sometimes you’re going to fail.”

Many people are unaware of the challenges these students face. Celebrations such as Sibs and Kids Weekend, Family Weekend, and even the excitement of going home for break can be very difficult for students who have been in the foster system. Parris-Bingle said in these situations, the life skills coach will be available to accompany students and provide extra support.

The program is also going to give students the necessary resources for enrollment. Arnold said students may be sitting off-site thinking about and aspiring to go to college, but oftentimes they don't believe there are resources or a place for them on campus. This project opens up that access.

Additionally, GVSU will be working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services and other colleges to market the program. They will also spread the word through admissions recruiting, services within the community and social workers who work with these students.

“This is about getting (students who have experienced foster care) to college and getting them through college,” Arnold said. “Eighty percent of students who have been in the foster care system wish to go to college; about 50 percent will actually enroll. However, only about two percent will actually graduate. When a student is coming into college unaccompanied, there is just some extra support that is needed when trying to navigate things.”

If a student doesn’t know how to make arrangements with financial aid, doesn’t know how to connect with an advisor or is unsure about their major, this program will give them the resources to do so.

“I think this grant is particularly important because we are serving an unmet need," Arnold said. "We are going to be able to respond to a specific population with very intentional efforts and intentional training.

“I think that anytime you are able to support a group of students who have been historically underrepresented and maybe not part of the dominant or majority population, you have an opportunity to tap into undiscovered potential.”

Jesse Bernal, vice president for inclusion and equity, said the central focus on student success and enhanced access to campus resources is essential to making GVSU even more inclusive.

“GVSU strives to create an environment where all students can thrive, including students who bring unique and diverse experiences and perspectives to campus,” Bernal stated in an email. “This grant provides opportunities to support students in transition from foster care and enhances the support already provided on campus by Student Services, Enrollment Development, and Inclusion and Equity for this community and others.”

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