Grant will fund initiative to support students from foster care system

headshots, two women
Sharalle Arnold, left, and Marnie Parris-Bingle wrote a grant to establish support systems for students from the foster care system.
Image Credit: University Communications

Grand Valley received a $375,000 state grant to establish an initiative to support students who have experienced foster care.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services grant, funded over three years, will support hiring a life skills coach who will support up to 25 students from the foster care system, and a team of six student mentors. 

Sharalle Arnold, associate director of the Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity, was one of the grant writers. Arnold said Grand Valley will join the statewide initiative, Fostering Success Michigan, which includes a coalition of 14 other colleges and universities that have support systems in place to help students progress and matriculate through college.

"The first hurdle is getting students to campus," Arnold said. "The second hurdle is helping them negotiate the university, especially if they are unaccompanied."

Jesse Bernal, vice president for Inclusion and Equity, said the initiative enhances the university's commitment to creating a welcoming campus where all students can thrive.

"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," Bernal said.

Marnie Parris-Bingle, academic advisor for TRIO Student Support Services, was the grant's co-author. Parris-Bingle said there are about 6,300 youth ages 18-25 in Michigan who have experience with foster care. Fostering Success Michigan reported more than 80 percent of that population aspire to attend college but only 20 percent graduate from college.

"Some youth in foster care can move up to eight times, which can bring a set of issues when they're ready to transition to college," Parris-Bingle said.

Grand Valley's initiative, Fostering Laker Success, will provide students with support services focused on career development, financial aid, academic tutoring, networking, and more. The grant was written to support up to 25 students who are 20 and younger, and who have experienced foster care since they were 14 years old.

The Fostering Laker Success life skills coach and student mentors are expected to be hired and trained by August. The initiative will be housed in the Center for Women and Gender Equity.