When Marjorie Rodríguez ’15, MSW’16 stepped on campus as a non-traditional transfer student, she felt self-sufficient. As a foster child who had recently aged out of the system, she’d learned how to deal with challenging situations alone. Rodríguez learned quickly, though, that to earn a degree, she needed support.
“It was shocking to realize how quickly the consequences of growing up in foster care were putting my goals in jeopardy,” Rodríguez remembers.
She experienced homelessness and food insecurity during her transition to college and struggled with feelings of abandonment that were more present than ever when she witnessed the assists University students received from their families. Rodríguez also often had to choose between eating one meal a day and buying books or paying for transportation. She says, “Thanks to the support I received from Westfield State staff, I was able to succeed not only academically, but also as a human being.”
In 2015, Rodríguez earned a dual bachelor’s degree in social work and Spanish and completed her master’s degree in social work the following year. She now volunteers as an advisor for the University’s Fostering a Culture of Empowerment and Success (FACES) club, a four-year-old student organization with a goal of supporting students who are in foster care or who are homeless or disconnected from family.
“The group that formed FACES was driven by the sad recognition that some of our foster care and homeless students were sleeping in their cars during school breaks because they had nowhere to go,” says Jennifer Propp, Ph.D., a FACES advisor and leader in the newly formed Fostering Student Success Network (FSSN).
FSSN brings the goals of FACES to a new level. Led by Dr. Propp, Rodriguez, Kim Morgan, Vice President Carlton Pickron, Ed.D., and Coordinator Kelly Hart, Ph.D., it aims to respond to students’ needs in a comprehensive way, with collaboration from every division of the University.
There is a significant need for the services, Dr. Propp says, given that national statistics from 2014 show that while 85 percent of students who age out of the foster care system want to go to college, only 20 percent start a post-secondary program and only two percent earn a degree. At Westfield State, Dr. Propp says there are 80 to 100 students who have experienced foster care or homelessness, or who are disconnected from family supports.
Danielle Cousineau ’20, a member of FACES since her freshman year, says the support it’s offered has been immeasurable. “This group of people has become my second family,” she says.