Anastasia Roberts is anything but a traditional college student.
The 25-year-old single mother of two young children had just transferred to UGA when she was hit with a series of life-changing events that easily could have derailed her college career.
She lost one of her jobs, which drastically reduced her ability to support her family, then totaled her car and was forced to move out of her apartment.
Thanks to the help of a program called Embark UGA, Roberts was able to get her back on her feet, provide for her family and concentrate on her education.
Embark is a statewide support network to support youth who have experienced foster care or homelessness and ensure they have ample academic, financial, social and emotional supports to access and complete a post-secondary education.
Embark UGA, an outreach program based in the J.W. Fanning Institute of Leadership Development, strives to make college more accessible for students at risk for not considering college as an option or who have difficulty staying in college because of challenges meeting basic daily needs.
As part of the public service and outreach mission at UGA, the Fanning Institute uses its leadership development and capacity-building expertise to strengthen networks across the state to meet the challenges that face young people who have experienced foster care or homelessness.
This semester, Embark UGA teamed up with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to launch an inaugural information session for at-risk high school students to learn about their options for college. Undergraduate Admissions already offers the First Look program, a series of information sessions offered to prospective high school students throughout the year, but none of the sessions address the specific needs of this population of students.
In February, 18 high school students and their supporters from school systems and county offices attended the inaugural Embark First Look program, which included a full day with faculty, staff and students who shared their UGA experiences. They interacted with a panel of faculty and students about academic life at UGA, went on a walking tour of North Campus led by the Arch Society, ate lunch at Bolton Dining Commons and participated in panel discussions about campus resources, scholarships and financial aid as well as the admissions process.
The message for these at-risk students was that college is a viable option and that UGA will support them by helping them overcome barriers to success in the face of life challenges.
“We want you to consider UGA,” said David Meyers, a public service associate at the Fanning Institute. “Make no mistake, we want you to think of UGA as an opportunity.”
Cindy Boyles Crawford, associate director and scholarship coordinator in Undergraduate Admissions, encouraged the high school students to share their stories on their college applications.
“This helps us in understanding their unique situations as well as connecting them to campus resources should they attend UGA,” Crawford said.
Embark plays a key role in UGA’s efforts to foster an academic community that supports and values students from diverse backgrounds. The program has partnered with others on campus to enhance initiatives such as the hygiene pantry being developed by the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, the textbook initiative developed by the Center for Teaching and Learning and a mentoring effort developed by the University Health Center.
Through the Embark network of campus leaders, Roberts’ academic advisor connected her with Lori Tiller in the Embark UGA office, who worked with the Office of Student Financial Aid to identify an emergency scholarship fund that allowed Roberts to continue her education. Without this assistance, Roberts might have had lost hope for a college education instead of powering on to become a successful fourth-year marketing major getting ready to graduate in May and launch her own digital marketing business.
“If more at-risk youth knew about Embark, they would come to UGA knowing that there would be a full force of support behind them,” Roberts said.
If you know a student who would benefit from the Embark program, please contact Meyers at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tiller at email@example.com. Fore more information about the statewide effort, visit www.embarkgeorgia.org.