New effort supports fostered and homeless students

A universitywide program launching this fall will focus on supporting students who aged out of foster care, are homeless or whose families are unable to provide emotional support. It will tap existing student support services on campus and provide a community structure for its undergraduate and graduate members. It also will appeal to staff and faculty benevolence.

Students on the Rise in Education (or STORIES for short) is the brainchild of student services specialist Laura Kilbride in the College of Human Sciences. It combines her work and a personal commitment to advocating for disadvantaged youth. Five years ago she trained to become a court-appointed special advocate (or CASA) for children in Story County and subsequently a licensed foster parent, primarily for teen girls. She also was working on a master's degree in student affairs. Many of her course projects focused on foster teens, but she noticed that population wasn't part of most discussions.

"The chance of a high school student in foster care going to college is so slim. Nationally, 3% of foster youth get a four-year degree," she said. "They move frequently and lose high school credits when the next school doesn't have the class they were in at the previous school. Navigating college applications, paying the fees, filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)? It's next to impossible for them."

How it works

Students who want to participate in STORIES fill out an interest form on the program website, and Kilbride confirms their eligibility. She said it's difficult to know how many students the program could serve. The FAFSA application asks about foster care participation at age 13 or later, but she knows not all eligible students complete a FAFSA or, if they do, might ignore that question on a federal form. Employees in similar programs in other states told her their participation numbers jumped, though, when they posed the question on the school's application form. Kilbride is investigating that possibility for Iowa State's 2022-23 class recruiting cycle.

The program's mainstay will be two workshops each month that gather participants for social networking, a meal and a presentation on a campus service available to them. Participants will receive help linking to the services they need to succeed at Iowa State and mentoring on a level they choose, Kilbride said.

Opportunities for faculty and staff who want to be involved include:

  • One-on-one mentoring with a student
  • Meal donation for a workshop
  • Other specific donations, for example, care packages or anonymous small gifts for the winter holidays

Faculty and staff can express interest in either of the first two in this Qualtrics form. This spring, a critical role they can play is to refer eligible students to the program website so they can apply and be accepted by fall when it rolls out.

"This is going to be a highly collaborative process across the university," Kilbride said. "We're not providing the services ourselves, we're providing that link, a fast track to the services they need from the many that exist."

First in the state

Kilbride said she spent a few years researching university programs for students who'd been in foster care and found some strong ones -- but none in Iowa. So she advocated for one in her college.

"We're the land-grant. We're about open access," she noted.

Her supervisor, Clayton Johnson, took her proposal to associate dean Robert Reason and dean Laura Jolly, who approved the plan in January.

"This is a really innovative program for the state of Iowa, the first of its kind, so it's exciting we can step out and be the leader on this," Kilbride said. "My hope is that we'll continue to see programs like this across the country."

Kilbride is recruiting a core team of 15-20 university employees "who are passionate about helping this student population and ready to advocate and make amazing things happen for them."

It includes a member from the TRIO student support services program, a federal grant-funded program that serves first-generation or low-income undergraduates or those with a disability. Kilbride said there could be some overlap between the two programs, so they'll cooperate to avoid duplication.

STORIES core team members:

  • Coordinator Laura Kilbride, College of Human Sciences student services specialist
  • Audrey Kennis, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences student retention coordinator
  • Mindy Heggen, College of Engineering academic advisor
  • Jeremy Miller, College of Design academic advisor
  • Tara Fisher, Ivy College of Business academic advisor
  • Autumn Cartagena, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences academic advisor
  • Wendy Robinder, assistant director, TRIO student support services
  • Mark Gilbertson, assistant director, admissions
  • Tricia Stouder, financial aid advisor, office of student financial aid
  • Carrie Giese, health promotion coordinator, student wellness
  • nicci port, project director, office of the vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Amy Popillion, teaching professor, human development and family studies
  • Jayda Baumhover, multicultural student affairs and graduate student
  • Undergraduate student, TBD