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Epic name, epic purpose

The Fostering Success program changes its name but retains its mission – and you can be an ally.

By Lindsey Coulter

August 22, 2018

Chandell BellMany Metropolitan State University of Denver programs and offices have adopted new names recently, an example of the dynamic, forward-thinking nature of MSU Denver faculty and staff — and their ongoing mission to serve and support students.

Joining the name-change list is Fostering Success, which is now EPIC Scholars. The program was originally designed for foster-care alumni; however, Chandell R. Bell, EPIC Scholars coordinator, explained that the former name represented just one-third of students accessing the program’s service.

“The one thing all students in this program have in common is that they are self-supporting,” Bell said. “They don’t have any parental or family support as they’re going through this college journey.”

EPIC Scholars provides that support. Bell is dedicated to EPIC Scholars students, who are generally connected with the program after self-identifying on financial-aid paperwork as independent.

“The students I work with sometimes just need someone else to talk to because they don’t have that person,” Bell said.

In addition to being a positive presence, Bell organizes social events; connects students with scholarship opportunities and graduate-school and career advising; and provides referrals for housing, food, clothing and other services.

Bell talked with the Early Bird about why the name “EPIC Scholars” empowers students and how faculty and staff can support this unique population of students.

What challenges do self-supporting students face, and how does EPIC Scholars help?

The biggest challenges for students in this program are feeling alone, making friends and getting connected to different offices, organizations and services. That’s why our workshops and events are set up to allow students to get to know each other. We do meet-and-greets where they come in, eat lunch and just talk. That gives them a chance to get to know their peers and talk to people who have common experiences because they wouldn’t know each other just by sitting next to one another in class.

Why was the name “Fostering Success” not working for this program?

The name wasn’t inclusive and wasn’t empowering students to be their authentic selves without being labeled. Some of the students in the program have had experiences in the foster-care system, some are currently experiencing homelessness, and others are independent because they’ve never had parental or family support. They’re coming from different levels of independence.

Also, for students who have had experience in the foster-care system, having the word “foster” in the name let everyone know automatically an identity they didn’t have a choice in sharing. When students get to college and are trying to run their own road, they don’t want to still be “the foster child.”

How did you choose such an epic name?

An epic is a poem about someone who has been through challenges and struggles but ended up being victorious and becoming their own hero. These students have done so much by themselves, and they are their own heroes. This name gives them the opportunity to feel empowered. It also doesn’t just speak to one identity. There would be no program without the students and their epic achievements — they are the reason we are here.

How do you keep students energized to succeed?

This program has grown from three students when I arrived last August to 30 students last semester; this semester, we are aiming for 40. A lot of that growth came from the $500 EPIC Scholars stipend I created for students to use toward end-of-the-semester expenses. It ensures that students stay motivated to get through the requirements: attending two meetings with me so we can make sure they’re on track with their goals, attending two campus events to get connected and meet new people, and maintaining a 2.0 GPA.

Care package for EPIC Scholars students.I have also had a lot of support. Provost Vicki Golich, Ph.D., and Brandi Scott, associate dean of the Center for Equity and Student Achievement, were instrumental in helping me with the program name changes. I also could not have grown the program without the support from Student Academic Success Center Director Matt Kring; Senior Financial Aid Counselor/Outreach Coordinator Theresa Godinez; Matt Watson with Marketing and Communications, who was helpful in telling the initial Fostering Success story; the entire CESA team; the Consultation, Assessment, Referral, Education team; the MSU Denver Foundation; and the Office of Sponsored Research and Programs.

How can faculty and staff be allies for EPIC Scholars?

In addition to helping with our annual care packages, there are three big ways faculty and staff can support our scholars.

  1. Make a gift to the MSU Denver Foundation and specify the EPIC Scholars Program in the comments. These gifts allow us to provide snacks, hygiene products and school supplies and meet other immediate student needs.
  2. List the EPIC Scholars program and other Center for Equity and Student Achievement programs on your syllabus as a student resource.
  3. Use the Early Alert Sometimes our students will not come to us directly when things get challenging, but if you notice they are missing classes, missing assignments or struggling to meet deadlines, please report this through Early Alerts.
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