Partnership between UW Tacoma and Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound fosters college-going culture with scholarship funding, mentoring and internships.
What does it mean to be an urban-serving university?
To answer that question, UW Tacoma vice chancellor Cedric Howard describes a conversation among himself, former chancellor Debra Friedman and Mark Starnes, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound.
“Chancellor Friedman and I were sitting at a table with Mark, and she had said something she always said … ‘How can we serve you?’ And Mark said, ‘I would really like to partner with you…’
“And in traditional Debra-Friedman-fashion, she turned to me and said, ‘Cedric, make it happen.’ And I said, ‘Yes ma’am, we’re going to make something happen!'"
What happened is now called the Great Futures Fund, a multi-pronged collaborative effort to build a college-going culture among youth in the Boys & Girls Clubs that includes scholarship money, mentoring and internships.
“I actually came through the Boys & Girls Club,” says Howard, who grew up in Macon, Georgia. He had a mentor in the club who made a deal with him: If he worked hard and got accepted into college, his mentor would find a way to fund his college degree.
As Howard and Starnes started fleshing out a partnership, they were inspired by Howard’s experience and sought to create a program that would deliver the same impact but at a larger scale.
The Great Futures Fund provides a full one-year scholarship to UW Tacoma. Although preference is given to Boys & Girls Club members who achieve Youth-of-the-Year status, any club member who is eligible to be admitted to UW Tacoma is eligible to be considered for the scholarship.
As Howard explains, “It started with the Youth of the Year, and has now expanded to all qualified seniors within the clubs. The impetus was to take the best and brightest from the clubs, that the clubs have selected, prepare them to go to a four year school, and then give them incentive to come to the University of Washington Tacoma.”
The scholarship is about more than just money – it’s about creating a community of scholars, a support system that coalesces around the students through the efforts of staff and the students themselves. Amanda Bruner, director of UW Tacoma’s student transition programs, describes the community-building process: “The students have quarterly meetings with our staff. They develop this cohort-based network of relationships.”
The community of scholars is a valuable component of the Great Futures program for Chanel Athena Estrada, a scholarship recipient who came up through the D. A. Gonyea branch of Boys & Girls Clubs. “Being a part of Great Futures gives me a step up,” she says. “Something I’m learning about in college is social capital. You get access to a mentor, a whole group of connections and it has been really helpful.”
That mentoring is another focus of the program. Great Futures students meet regularly with UW Tacoma deans, vice chancellors and the chancellor, and student success staff. In turn, Great Futures students go back to their clubs and mentor other kids, instilling in them a realistic aspiration to attend college.
The momentum created by the scholarship leads to the next phase of the program: internships. In their second, third and fourth years of studies, Great Futures students work at a paid internship at a local Boys & Girls Club, aligned with the student’s major course of study.
The students who are part of the Great Futures program are given the chance to worry less about finances and focus on their studies. Chanel Estrada said “I don’t have to worry as much as I thought I would about the financial aspect of going to college.” As with a lot of college students, she was also concerned about her family. “My sisters are both only three and four years younger than me, and this frees my mom up to support them.”
The Great Futures Fund collaboration, especially the innovative scholarship component, is receiving national attention. Boys & Girls Clubs of America hopes to expand it to other networks of clubs around the country. Insight Into Diversity, a national higher education magazine, featured the collaboration in a 2013 article.
So, to answer the question – what does it mean to be an urban-serving university? It means taking advantage of the “soft edges” between campus and community, which is a great way of describing how the Great Futures Fund emerged.
John Burkhardt with reporting by Makayla Woods / November 25, 2014
John Burkhardt, Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org