WMU faculty promotes Seita Scholars Program at national conference for student social mobility

Contact: Chris Hybels

Dr. Ramona Lewis, third from right, was a panelist at the 2023 Social Mobility Symposium at California State University San Marcos. (Courtesy: California State University San Marcos)

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University's Dr. Ramona Lewis, master faculty specialist and higher education and student affairs (HESA) program coordinator, served as a panelist sharing the role higher education has in advancing social mobility during the 2023 Social Mobility Symposium at California State University San Marcos. Lewis shared the success and continuation of the Seita Scholars Program to support students from the foster care system at WMU.

"What the Seita Scholars program is doing is at the core of social mobility,” says Lewis. "It is about helping young people to achieve their greatest potential by providing additional support to help to level the playing field."

The Seita Scholars Program supports WMU students with lived experience in foster care. Students in the program receive academic, career, financial and personal support throughout their time at WMU. Nationwide, fewer than 3% of foster youth graduate from a four-year college. Since the launch of the program in 2008, graduation rates for Seita Scholars have far exceeded the national average.

"Higher education is one of the most important drivers of an individual’s upward mobility in society. Social mobility promotes well-being, economic prosperity, and can help all of our students to achieve their highest potential," explains Lewis.

The inaugural study abroad group of Seita Scholars.

Lewis told the audience about the program's newest initiative to increase the number of opportunities for students to engage in High Impact Practices to promote retention and graduation rates. Last summer, the Seita Scholars launched a specially designed, faculty-led study abroad program for the Scholars. Co-developed by Lewis and Ronicka Hamilton, director of the Seita Scholars Program, the study abroad program is a five-year initiative to help create a culture of global engagement. Each year a new group of 12 Scholars will travel to the Dominican Republic to meet with policy makers, complete a service project with Dominican youth and network with many WMU Dominican alumni.

Scholars work closely with their Campus Coach and Office of Financial Aid to secure funding for their experience and apply for scholarships. In 2023, the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) offered the first scholarship of $500 to each of the Scholars. As part of 2023 Giving Day, the CEHD raised more than $10,000 to support airfare scholarships for the Seita Scholars. 

"The study abroad is a High Impact Practice," says Lewis. "Study abroad is shown to improve students’ sense of belonging on campus, improve GPAs and graduation rates. This five-year initiative is about engaging the Seita Scholars in a transformative, experiential opportunity."

Scholars who participated in the inaugural trip in May 2023 reported that the study abroad course positively affected their motivation towards graduation and developed their awareness as a global citizen. 

"It gave me the opportunity to enhance my language skills," says RJ Miller, a Seita Scholar and aviation management and operations major with a minor in Spanish. "Developing a language skill can open career opportunities. By engaging in the study abroad, I gained increased independence and adaptability, I learned to navigate unfamiliar environment, and overcome cultural and language barriers. It helped me build personal growth and self discovery."

SEITA SCHOLARS PROGRAM

The Seita Scholars Program is part of a larger initiative to change the college going paradigm of youth in the foster care system. Seita Scholars is a campus-based support program that provides holistic coaching and programming to college students with lived experience in foster care. For more information, visit the Seita Scholars Program webpage.

Opportunities to support the Scholars engaging in this transformative, high-impact global experience are available. Visit the WMU Alumni Asscioation's webpage to donate to the study abroad program or contact the College of Education and Human Development for more information. 

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