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Ferris Youth Initiative Johnson Scholars Program Nurtures Success through State Support, Endowment, Mentorship

PhotoStudents in the close-knit Ferris Youth Initiative (FYI) Johnson Scholars Program maintain their focus on academics and professional goals with the shared experience as alumni of the foster care system.

Students in the close-knit Ferris Youth Initiative (FYI) Johnson Scholars Program maintain their focus on academics and professional goals with the shared experience as alumni of the foster care system.

Independent Living Skills Coach and Program Coordinator Janette Ward said the first academic year of their Johnson Scholars designation has wrapped up. Ferris State University President David Eisler and his wife Patsy established an endowment to support the program in the name and memory of her adoptive parents, Norris and Irene Johnson.

“A Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Youth in Transition grant is the public contribution to support the FYI Johnson Scholars program,” Ward said. “We are currently receiving support through an extension of our 2017 award from the state, as Michigan’s government has contributed to the program for just over a decade. As an alumna of the foster care system, Patsy has a keen interest in seeing that there are resources for our students. The endowment established by the Eislers will impact students with similar backgrounds for years to come.”

Ferris’ Diversity, Inclusion and Strategic Initiatives Office administers the FYI Johnson Scholars Program. Ward said up to 25 FYI Johnson Scholars can take part in the program, year to year.

“We ask these students to spend their first year at Ferris on campus, with Bond Hall available to all FYI Johnson Scholars at those times in the academic year where classes are not in session,” Ward said. “Many of our students find living in the campus apartments or East Campus Suites afford them stability in their living situation.”

Ward noted that the FYI Johnson Scholars must complete a Casey Life Skills assessment, one of several elements of self-examination suggested for them, in the interest of personal development.

“Our students develop individual goals to assist them in their time at Ferris and identify those steps they need to take to accomplish those goals,” Ward said. “There is a real sense of community, as we also gather regularly for recreational activities, but there is also an emphasis on their commitment, which includes active support of their peers.”

Each FYI Johnson Scholars member meets monthly with Ward to review their classwork and recent activities. There are also life skills sessions they attend regularly.

Ward said the larger campus community is an essential component of these students’ enrichment and development as they work toward their degrees.

“Each Johnson Scholar has a mentor, members of our faculty and staff, who spend a minimum of four hours a month in contact with them,” Ward said. “We are so thankful for these volunteers, who support our FYI students without judgment, unconditionally. Some of our scholar-mentor teams spend time together during the holidays, which can be a difficult time for these students.”

Ward hopes that more faculty and university staff members will consider this mentoring opportunity to make an actual investment in a student’s life.

“Anyone interested in mentoring, or those having questions about supporting an FYI Johnson Scholar is welcome to reach out,” Ward said. “I would be excited to talk with them about this rewarding experience.”

Ward said graduation is always an exciting time of year, as program participants get ready to celebrate the successes of students earning their Associate of Applied Science, Bachelor of Science degrees, or completing a certificate program.

“The FYI program has 23 students who have earned BS degrees at Ferris State, one member will graduate from law school and five additional members have earned their master’s degrees,” Ward said. “We have had one alumna member complete their degree at a different university.

Each student who earns a diploma or certificate is a point of pride for the program. It says so much about their effort and accomplishment. Those who have experienced life in the foster care system can find even high school completion a struggle, so we are always sure to let each Ferris Youth Initiative Johnson Scholar know of our pride that they reached this important life goal.”