Seeing students graduate from Western Michigan University is not the number one goal of Chris Harris, the new leader of WMU‛s support program for former foster youth.
“Graduation is important, but even more critical is the success of our students after they get their diploma,” says Harris, who directs the nationally acclaimed Seita Scholars program.
The Seita program provides a campus home for about 140 students who have aged out of foster care but lack the support structure that families usually provide to help them succeed in college. Year-round housing, tuition scholarships and campus coaches are among the tools employed by WMU to support the former foster-care youth who qualify for admission.
Harris, who arrived at WMU following a distinguished corporate career with Vanguard, Pfizer and Stryker Medical, is highly focused on preparing the Seita Scholars to make a successful transition to their post-graduation professional and personal lives.
“When they arrive at Western, many of our students are handicapped by the unhealthy relationships of their upbringing,” says Harris. “Our job is to make sure that the students are able to build new, healthy networks both on and off campus. That is absolutely the best way for them to be ultimately successful.”
Within the WMU community, the Seita Scholars have proudly built a close-knit family that has contributed mightily to a remarkable program retention rate of 75 percent.
With this safety net in place, Harris is now encouraging each student to extend his or her boundaries, including participation in study abroad and career development internship experiences.
Another critical component is expanding the program‛s circle of volunteers who serve as career mentors.
“We already have a number of area professionals who are committed to working with our students, and we will be expanding that network,” says Harris. “We'll be looking at every opportunity for our Seita Scholars to form bonds that will help them forge a favorable career path.”