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Guardian Scholars program graduates record number of foster youth

Guardian Scholars group photo on a trip to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco
Photo by: Guardian Scholars
Guardian Scholars students, interns and staff visited Alcatraz Island during a cultural exploration trip to San Francisco in 2019.

SEASIDE, Calif., May 22, 2020 - CSUMB’s Guardian Scholars program for current and former foster youth had a record-breaking 21 students graduate from the university this academic year.

Keyiona Ritchey, the program’s retention advisor, called it a “huge accomplishment for our students,” particularly in light of national statistics: only 10% of foster youth enter college and just 3% graduate.

“Our students are resilient. They have persevered and overcome so much in their life, and they have used those same skills to navigate and successfully complete college. They believed they could do it and didn't give up,” Ritchey said.

CSUMB had 38 students in Guardian Scholars this semester. Last year the program had 42 participants with only eight graduates. Ritchey said she believes the difference in the number of graduates occurred largely because most participants happened to complete their graduation requirements this year, but increased support and services from the program also played an important part.

Our students are resilient. They have persevered and overcome so much in their life, and they have used those same skills to navigate and successfully complete college. They believed they could do it and didn't give up.”
Keyiona Ritchey, retention advisor

Guardian Scholars added its first peer mentor intern last academic year, and started a laptop loan program this year. They collaborated with Hartnell College on two events this semester to help establish communication and build a better pipeline for transfer students. The program also held three faculty and staff mentor trainings and welcomed eight new mentors to help support participants.

“Often my students tell me they feel invisible on campus, because you can't look at someone and tell they have been in the foster care system or experienced homelessness, so their issues, needs, and success get overlooked,” Ritchey said.

Guardian Scholars has created positive change by providing a community-based support system.

“Knowing that they have a sub-community on campus where they can trust and build rapport with the retention advisor, have access to the different services the program provides, and meet other students who come from similar backgrounds has assisted in persistence and retention,” Ritchey said.

Prior to COVID-19, participants in a focus group shared that the program gave them an environment where they “had an inherent understanding of the weight of each other’s experiences,” said intern Jaquelyn Martinez, who facilitated the group.

“It was an opportunity to rejoice in their resilience, strength and power, instead of having to revisit past trauma to connect."

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