Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 26, 2013

NMC program aids foster children

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Northwestern Michigan College is receiving statewide recognition for a program that strongly supports students who have grown up in foster care.

“Our hope is other (community colleges) will want to come alongside us, and we can show them what we’re doing,” said Lisa Thomas, associate dean of Student Life.

In January, NMC will become the state’s first community college to be listed in a resource guide published by Fostering Success Michigan, based at Western Michigan University. Until now, the guide has only included programs offered by four-year institutions, Thomas said.

NMC can’t provide the generous scholarships like many four-year colleges, Thomas said, but it can provide extra mentoring and coaching at little cost.

“The money would be nice, but it’s beyond money. It’s the emotional support we give,” Thomas said.

Thomas said she and Joseph Sanok, an NMC counselor, both came from a social work background. They were aware of research statistics showing that only 2 to 4 percent of kids who grow up in foster care complete a college degree.

They thought through the pitfalls a student can encounter and work with NMC’s admissions and financial aid departments, along with instructors, to overcome them.

The college waives registration fees, hosts one-on-one campus tours, and connects students with tutors and academic support centers. The financial aid office has a go-to person who guides students through the various tuition assistance programs. Students are also encouraged to start with a smaller number of credits for a greater chance of success, Thomas said.

The Student Life office also has provided office space for Susie Greenfelder, an educational planner from the Department of Human Services, who is available two days a week to trouble shoot.

Greenfelder is helping one student, for example, who enrolled at Western Michigan University before realizing she wouldn’t qualify for a needed scholarship. She now owes WMU full tuition.

“Susie is trying to help sort it out,” Thomas said. “She’s a key advocate when a student gets discouraged and thinks, ‘I don’t know how to solve this.’”

The relatively new program helps a small number of students — between four to seven a year — but also applies many of the strategies for other at-risk students who take part in The Muster Project, organized by NMC’s Student Life and the Maritime Heritage Alliance.

Students not only sail, but also take part in team-building activities, ask any question they like, and link up with a student mentor who can help them year-long.

“The biggest predictor of success is if a student feels there is at least one person on campus who knows their name and cares about them,” Thomas said.