English department faculty, students help Kalamazoo high school students write scholarship essays

Contact: Kayla Lambert

Dr. Jonathan Bush assists KPS students with accessing scholarships through the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Photo credit: Jake Waggoner and the Kalamazoo Promise

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Department of English faculty and students are taking Western Michigan University’s mission, “so all may learn,” to heart with their latest community experience.

Dr. Jonathan Bush and his team of WMU English students, along with writing coaches from Read and Write Kalamazoo (RAWK), were like a literary dream team, inspiring Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) seniors to unleash their writing skills and pen essays for the Kalamazoo Community Foundation (KZCF) scholarship portal.

“The first time we did (the scholarship workshop) last year, it was pretty small,” says Bush. “But this year it got so much bigger, and we were so excited to be helping all these bright, young students. The energy was amazing.” 

For four consecutive Saturdays, Western students put their writing chops to the test at the Kalamazoo Promise offices, providing KPS seniors with guidance to generate ideas, outline and compose scholarship essays that would make them stand out on the KZCF scholarship portal, featuring over 60 scholarships for students pursuing diverse academic paths.

“It’s always great to go out and do activities outside of the classroom,” says Nayla Contejean, an English (pre-secondary education) major, who volunteered for the second year in a row. “Especially learning about the Kalamazoo community and the students here: That was such an important part of this experience.” 

Contejean and other participating Western students didn't just act as writing coaches to KPS students, they also lent a hand in guiding them through the application process on the KZCF Scholarship Portal.

“All the students should have the support to get these scholarship essays done. No one should have to miss out on an opportunity,” says Bush, who also noted a desire to "do more work within the actual schools, to eliminate transportation barriers."

From there, Western students guided KPS seniors through the entire process of developing their scholarship essays, beginning with a discussion about what constitutes a good essay. During the dedicated sessions, KPS students generated ideas and collaboratively identified the most important aspects to include in their writing. They then worked independently to write their essays, with WMU students providing assistance as needed. Each essay was unique, incorporating the individual experiences and stories of each student.

“What we really wanted them to do with their scholarship (applications) was make them more personal and personable,” says Contejean. “We wanted them to present their best, whole selves.” 


Beyond helping KPS students with their scholarship essays, Western students also provided valuable insight into college life. It was a great opportunity for the two groups to relate to each other and share advice for the future.

“I learned and shared so much about what students are experiencing within the classroom,” says Contejean. “It was nice to show (the students) what their life might look like.” 

This was especially important considering the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to sweep through students’ worlds.

“All of these students have lived through the pandemic during their academic lives,” says Bush. “So it was really great to see them share their experiences back and forth with one another and let them know everything is going to be okay.” 

Other students involved in the effort, who were mostly English majors on the pre-secondary education track, included Racheal Bosch, Natalie Brown, Nina Lograsso, Abby DuFort, Lauren Johnson, Jenna Ellis, Breyana Wilson and Racheal Anthony. Husain Abdelrahman, who also participated, is a computer information systems major through the Haworth College of Business. 

“This was a true partnership,” says Bush, in reference to all who brought the project to life. Dr. Kandace Lavender, executive director of RAWK, and Meredith Bradford, scholarships manager of KZCF, created the initiative, in addition to the Kalamazoo Promise and their support staff, Trenae Dunigan, De'Tavia Moore, and Melissa Nesbitt, providing access to their downtown Kalamazoo spaces.

This won’t be the last year that RAWK, WMU, the Kalamazoo Promise and the Kalamazoo Community Foundation partner like this; Bush hopes to bring his students to participate in more than one set of workshops next year. Students interested in getting involved in this effort can contact Bush. Anyone is welcome—the program is not limited to secondary-education students.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.