Fostering Success

Scholarship assists students from foster system

Alison McManus Walters stands in front of bookcases in a floral print shirt

Alison McManus Walters ’73 established a scholarship for students from the foster system. (Yeoman Photography)

Alison McManus Walters '73 established a scholarship for students from the foster system. (Yeoman Photography)


When Alison McManus Walters ’73 graduated from Oakland County’s Birmingham Groves High School in 1969, most of her classmates were college-bound. 

“Everyone I knew had either been to college or was going to go to college,” she said. Her own aspirations for higher education became a reality when she moved across the state to attend Grand Valley.

 As Walters made friends that first semester, she quickly recognized the diversity in her classmates’ backgrounds. “It was a real eye-opener for me to be in that situation,” Walters said, noting that many students were the first in their families to attend college, and many relied on financial aid. 

She said she saw friends struggling to pay for laundry or wondering where they would stay during holiday breaks when the residence halls closed. Those were experiences she did not personally face.

Expanded understanding

When Walters graduated and transitioned to her teaching career, she continued to witness a wide range of circumstances. Students came from “situations that made it almost impossible for them to get to school, learn at school, behave at school and eventually graduate,” she said.

“I knew students who dropped out during their senior year of high school to work in a factory, students who lived with friends because they could not go home and I learned about the plight of foster children,” Walters said.

 She recalled a specific instance that made a lasting impression on her. A local woman regularly took in teen girls from the foster system, but, Walters said, the girls were almost always kicked out when they turned 18, whether they were done with high school or not. 

“And I just thought, ‘That is so wrong. It’s like they are disposable,’” she said.

Inspired to act

Collectively, those experiences inspired Walters to act. In 2016, she created the Alison McManus Walters ’73 Fostering Success Scholarship, a fund that provides assistance to foster youth to ensure that the cost of college does not become a barrier to higher education. 

Her own time at Grand Valley was meaningful, and Walters said she saw the impact college had on her friends who were able to attend because of financial aid. “They all ended up graduating, having professional careers and doing very well,” she said.  

For Walters, her scholarship needed to offer comprehensive support. “Former foster children have so little to depend upon except themselves,” she explained. “I wanted my scholarship to cover everything. There are so many things you need that you don’t even know about, and I wanted my students to have a full experience.”

 For one of the first recipients, that meant getting to travel abroad. “Being on Grand Valley’s first overseas trip to Austria has to be the highlight of college for me,” Walters said. “It was incredible, and I think that’s a really important experience if scholarship recipients want it.”

Two young women are standing with water in the background. Stairs to the right lead down to where they are standing. A city is in the background.

Alison McManus Walters is pictured boarding a sightseeing boat in Amsterdam at the start of Grand Valley’s 1971 Austrian program. 

Alison McManus Walters is pictured boarding a sightseeing boat in Amsterdam at the start of Grand Valley’s 1971 Austrian program. 

Looking ahead

Walters said she believes this kind of comprehensive support aligns with the education students receive at GVSU. “Grand Valley deals with students as individuals,” she said. “They have the ability to be up close and personal with professors.” 

She is confident that kind of education, coupled with the assistance of her scholarship, will help youth from the foster system succeed. “My hopes are coming true,” Walters said. “These students are going to be able to put their hearts wholeheartedly into their learning experiences and they’re going to be able to be ready for jobs that are going to make them happy.”

Portrait by Yeoman Photography 

Starting small

While Alison McManus Walters’ passion and vision culminated in a scholarship, that’s not where her generosity began.

“I started donating to a foreign language scholarship a long time ago, and I started very small,” she said. Those small gifts were to honor Mary and Wilhelm (Bill) Seeger, professors who had a profound impact on her time at Grand Valley. 

Walters’ giving turned into a habit that will have a life-changing impact on students for generations to come. 

To potential donors, Walters said: “It doesn’t have to be big, because it all adds up. What might not seem like a lot is joined with other people’s gifts, and that makes a big difference.”

Start your legacy with a gift to a scholarship or fund that means the most to you.


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