Sullivan-Deckard Foster Program Lauded
Cleveland State was one of just nine colleges and universities nationwide honored by University Business magazine with a 2016 Models of Excellence award, which recognizes innovative approaches to encouraging and nurturing student success.
CSU was saluted for its Sullivan-Deckard Scholars Opportunity Program, which provides financial support, mentoring, and Engaged Learning experiences specifically targeted for students aging out of foster care to assist them in succeeding at the university level.
At age 18, foster youth emancipate or “age out” of the system and must fend for themselves. National studies have estimated that fewer than half of foster youth apply to college and less than 10 percent of those graduate.
Anthony Diaz, 18, is a Sullivan-Deckard Scholar. A freshman majoring in nursing, he hopes for a career as a psychiatric nurse working with troubled teens in a hospital setting.
“I have been in and out of foster care since I was around 10 years old and I have lived with more than eight families,” he says. “The Sullivan-Deckard program is providing me with a sense of ‘Yes, I can do it!’ and opportunities for work experience and informational interviews, workshops on presenting myself and outreach to nursing professionals and mentors.”
Charleyse Pratt, assistant vice president for inclusion and multicultural engagement at CSU, notes that “foster children are one of the more at-risk populations in society and one of the least likely groups to earn a college degree. This initiative is one of the first of its kind to provide a holistic system of support for foster children — financial, educational and cultural — to assist them in transitioning out of the system and into an institution of higher learning with the ultimate goal of completing their degree.”
The Sullivan-Deckard program identifies students while still in high school and provides support through the college application process. Once admitted and enrolled, students receive free, year-round housing and money for tuition and books, work-study employment and academic support, including tutoring, coaching, advising, mentoring and peer support.
The program was created in 2015 through a $2.3 million combined gift from Frank and Barbara Sullivan and Jenniffer and Daryl Deckard. The program welcomed its second cohort of eight students this fall, who joined seven other Sullivan-Deckard Scholars who are in their second year at CSU.
Shajuana Gaston is a 17-year-old freshman, majoring in social work. After earning her degree, she hopes to open a group home/resource center for children in foster care. “The Sullivan-Deckard program is helping me achieve my dreams. I have matured as a person, become a better student and strive for greatness in everything I do, thanks to the support and resources provided by the program.”
MaryAnn Dowdell, a member of the first Sullivan-Deckard cohort, is a 20-year-old sophomore. She is majoring in English on a creative writing track and aspires to teach literature and writing to inner-city high school students. “Sullivan-Deckard staff guide me through academic challenges such as study habits, time management and tutoring, and also offer opportunities to network within my field. By the time I graduate, I anticipate being ready for graduate school through the mentoring of this scholarship program.”