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Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Shari Clarke (second from right) attended the Parents Weekend event earlier in the year

Photo courtesy of: OMSAR

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Ohio Reach Scholars enjoy the food during the fall semester event

Photo courtesy of: OMSAR

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OMSAR provides foster care students alternative programming during family weekends


Parents Weekend and other similar events can be difficult for students without parents or family. This year, Ohio University set out to change that.

The Office of Multicultural Student Access and Retention has recently coordinated events on family-themed weekends to create an atmosphere of inclusion and support for the University's emancipated foster care students who may feel excluded from family events.

“It speaks to the Ohio University mission of diversity and inclusion, that we want to make our campus and environment as inclusive to as many [people] as possible,” said Jacob Okumu, Ohio University coordinator for student outreach and developmental services.

OMSAR is partnering with the University’s chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars to host a Sunday brunch in Jefferson Hall on Nov. 8 as an alternative to Dads Weekend.

Ohio Reach Scholars and NSCS are collaborating to reach out to local high school students in the foster care system.

The two groups will further discuss how they can assist foster care students in making the transition from high school to college.

The Ohio Reach Program is designed to improve the college retention and graduation rates for former foster care students at Ohio University. This is done through inclusion in LINKS' yearlong retention program, including a study abroad service learning opportunity, four years of free tutoring, Ohio Reach seminars and one-on-one academic advising.

“The idea is that even as students, they can reach out and be a positive presence, an empowering presence,” Okumu said.

The brunch will be followed by ice skating at Bird Arena at 2:30 p.m. Later that night, NSCS will join the Ohio Reach Scholars during their weekly study session.

“These events are not only replacing or giving the students an alternative to family-themed weekends, they’re also making the students utilize all of the resources available to them,” Okumu said.

The first alternative program took place on Sept. 20 during Parents Weekend. OMSAR partnered with Housing and Residence Life to coordinate a picnic and movie night.

Marlene De La Cruz-Guzman, first-year director of OMSAR, said that for the University to be truly inclusive, it needs to make an effort to reach out to as many members of the community as possible. Although the Ohio Reach Scholars receive academic support from OMSAR, De La Cruz-Guzman believes support needs to extend beyond the classroom in order to retain and fully support these students.

In order to accomplish this, faculty and staff members were invited to join Ohio Reach Scholars at the picnic. Many of them brought their families along as well as food to share with the students. Okumu said the end result was a sort of family gathering.

“I was so touched with the reaction of the faculty and staff,” Okumu said.

The interactions also fostered awareness among faculty and staff about how to address and become acquainted with these students’ particular needs.

“This innovative initiative will assist in bridging the gap between high school and college for these students,” said Shari Clarke, vice provost for diversity and inclusion. “The mentoring component will address the holistic development for foster care students through scholarship, personal development, study skills and overall support.”

Students had a very positive reaction to the event. Some even said the event was a college orientation for them, as many never had the opportunity to do college visits or attend Bobcat Student Orientation prior to the start of the semester.

“I would love these types of programs to continue, especially during family-themed weekends, because not all Ohio University students have moms or dads,” said Michael Outrich, senior geographic information system major and Ohio Reach Scholar. “Programming during those times is essential for these students as those themes can be a difficult time for those who don’t have that kind of support. These programs build a sense of community and create a sense of family, which makes those weekends easier.”

Ohio University is one of the first universities in the nation to offer alternative programing of this kind. It is the only college in southeast Ohio to receive funding through the Ohio Reach Grant.

De La Cruz-Guzman said OMSAR is planning other events on upcoming family-themed weekends, as well as a program for Thanksgiving in partnership with Athens AM Rotary Club, ACTION Ohio, Athens County Children Services, Athens County CASA, Athens County Foster Parent Association, Foster Care Alumni of America, Vinton County Jaycees, The United States Junior Chamber and Performance Signs. The Thanksgiving dinner will take place on Nov. 15.

For more information about the Ohio Reach Program, contact the Office of Multicultural Student Access and Retention at 740-593-9376.