WMU's acclaimed Seita Scholars program names new director

Contact: Jeanne Baron
Photo of Ronicka Hamilton.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A longtime Western Michigan University staff member has been tapped to head the acclaimed Seita Scholars support program for former foster youth.

Ronicka D. Hamilton, senior campus coach for the program, will take over as its director, effective Jan 3, 2017. She was selected to lead the nationally known initiative after a competitive search that considered input from campus and community partners. She replaces Chris Harris-Wimsatt, who is leaving WMU to assume leadership of the Kalamazoo Boys and Girls Club.

In her new role at the University, Hamilton will not only oversee the campus-based Seita Scholars program, but also promote other programs that are a part of the Center for Fostering Success.

"The search committee was impressed by Ronicka's well-rounded experience at WMU, and her involvement in growing the Seita Scholars program over the past seven years," says Dr. Yvonne Unrau, professor of social work and director of the Center for Fostering Success. "We also were impressed with her genuine interest in student success and her solid record of career advancement. Ronicka brings a unique blend of qualities that make her ideally suited to lead the Seita Scholars program."

Ronicka Hamilton

A Kalamazoo native, Hamilton joined the WMU staff in 2000. She initially spent nearly a decade of her University career in the Division of Multicultural Affairs, most recently serving as finance specialist there. She joined the Seita Scholars program in 2009 as a campus coach and became its first senior campus coach in 2013.

Hamilton was instrumental in developing and creating the Fostering Success Coaching model. Since 2013, more than 225 professionals around the country have been trained in the model. Hamilton also developed the strategy for supervising staff in the area of troubleshooting student challenges and celebrating their successes.

"I'm excited to continue partnering with students, staff and faculty, as well as campus and community partners in this new capacity," she says. "I look forward to further equipping our students and strengthening our program services to ensure increased graduation rates for students who have experienced foster care."

Hamilton's personal background complements the talent and leadership she brings to the Seita Scholars program, in part because the new director was raised by her mother in a one-parent home and went on to obtain four college degrees.

"My passion for students who have experienced foster care starts at home with my godsons, who were once in the Michigan foster care system before being adopted by a family member," she says. "But I've always acted on my compassion to help young adults at risk. When working as a financial analyst for the Division of Multicultural Affairs, I also dedicated my time to developing and growing a local group home for young women at risk."

Hamilton earned an associate degree from Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and at WMU earned a Bachelor of Social Work and two master's degrees, one in counseling psychology and the other in higher education student affairs.

WMU's focus on student success

The Seita Scholars program, launched in 2008, is the nation's largest and most comprehensive collegiate program for foster care youth. It provides a tuition scholarship, round-the-clock campus coaches, mentors, and campus housing that remains available to program participants during holiday breaks and between semesters.

The program sparked creation of a Center for Fostering Success on campus that provides national leadership to inform teaching, research, learning and public service as they relate to the topic of foster care and higher education.

In addition to now housing the Seita Scholars, the center is home to the Fostering Success Coach Training program, which offers training nationally and has developed as well as been recognized for numerous best practices for supporting former foster care youth. The center's third major program component is Fostering Success Michigan, a statewide organization focused on increasing college-going rates and successful career transitions among Michigan's students from foster care by building a network of support on college campuses and within local communities.

For more information about the center and its programs, visit wmich.edu/fosteringsuccess.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.