Contact: Sasha Steinberg
STARKVILLE, Miss.—The Center for Student Success and the Learning Center at Mississippi State University are introducing a new Thrive Scholars program to provide resources and promote success among students who grew up in foster care.
“Statistics show that while 84 percent of 17 and 18-year-old foster youth want to go to college, only 2 to 9 percent of former foster youth actually obtain a bachelor’s degree,” MSU Provost and Executive Vice President Judy Bonner said. “MSU plans to change those statistics, and this program can help with that mission.”
Le’Roy Davenport, the university’s Thrive Scholars program coordinator, said 93 current MSU students either grew up in foster care or were adopted or granted emancipated/independent status after living in foster care. The university identified these students through their FAFSA applications. Sixty-five had official academic schedules for the fall semester at MSU and were notified about the new Thrive Scholars initiative. Twenty-eight students expressed interest in being part of the program, which held a meet-and-greet at the semester’s start.
Davenport, an MSU business administration/marketing graduate, said the Thrive Scholars represent a variety of majors—including criminology, educational counseling and social work—and together boast an average GPA of 2.99.
“These students have the drive to persevere and endure. They just need someone to support them while they do it,” he said. “On the first day I met them, they kept saying they wanted three things—to feel like they belonged here at MSU, to feel like they were home, and to feel like they were part of a community. That’s what the Thrive program is doing – providing a convenient, comfortable and positive experience at MSU.”
Through the generosity of campus and community members, Davenport said Thrive Scholars now have access to a campus pantry, where they can daily prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
Davenport said, “If these students are having to think about where their next meal is coming from, their minds are not on school. We want to help them be the best students they can be by helping to take one less stress or worry from their minds.”
With help from MSU’s Division of Student Affairs, the Thrive Scholars program has secured a full-sized refrigerator for the pantry, and MSU Vice President for Student Affairs Regina Young Hyatt also worked with foodservice contractor Aramark to provide coupons for the on-campus Fresh Food Co. Community members have donated a pantry microwave as well.
“The program has basically built itself, and we have raised awareness through word of mouth,” said Davenport, who also serves as pastor at 16th Section Missionary Baptist Church in Starkville. “People have said they want to bring groceries, provide rides, donate school supplies or even buy a meal plan for students. There are some great faculty and staff and people in the Starkville community who want to see students thrive, and we need the help.”
One way students can contribute to the Thrive Scholars initiative is by donating block meals through the Student Association’s Block by Block program, a virtual, on-campus foodbank. All MSU students with a valid meal plan can donate one block meal per semester to this program.
“The donated meals can be loaded onto the Thrive Scholars’ IDs, so then all they have to do to eat at campus dining facilities is swipe their cards,” Davenport said. “This way, we can bring everybody to the table.”
Along with providing food, toiletries, school supplies and other basic needs, the goal of the program is to help students grow academically and gain real-world skills they can use to positively impact society.
Davenport said he would like to see these students offered a basic money management class or dinner etiquette class. Starting a book sharing program and developing a common space for the Thrive Scholars are other ideas that could help build a sense of community, he added.
“The most encouraging thing is that these students are not letting their living arrangements define their life’s calling,” Davenport said. “They may have been without a home at times, but they want to go work with Habitat for Humanity and help build a house for someone else. They are always smiling, never complain, and happy and grateful to be here at MSU.”
Davenport said monetary or gift card contributions from community members and businesses can help Thrive Scholars participate in activities, where they can “unmask,” talk about their struggles and experience a sense of family.
“Through partnerships and with donations, we can take them skating, to see a movie or other places off campus where they can get the full StarkVegas experience and enjoy those kinds of outings like other students,” he said.
Tax-deductible donations to the Thrive Scholars program can be made via the MSU Foundation by calling Director of Gift Administration Lynn Durr at 662-325-8198 or email@example.com.
“Every little bit helps,” Davenport said. “We want this program to be the bridge the Thrive Scholars can walk across to get to where they need to go. When they walk across the stage at graduation, they will have new skills, a new mindset and new hope that they can go out and do anything they want in this world.”
For more information on the Thrive Scholars program, contact Davenport at 662-325-3463 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.