WHAT'S THE FUTURE OF FUTURE FOCUS?
The past two issues of PARKSIDE: The Magazine have described the Future Focus Fund – UW-Parkside’s largest need-based student scholarship/aid fund – as both a critical support for students during the pandemic, and an important tool for reaching diversity and equity goals.
As the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to affect students, UW-Parkside’s corporate partners, alumni, and other individuals have rallied to support them with gifts to the Future Focus Fund. What has this support accomplished so far – and what’s next for Future Focus?
The UW-Parkside Foundation spearheaded the creation of the Future Focus Fund in 2018 as part of UW-Parkside’s 50th anniversary. The goal of Future Focus is to reduce student loan debt and help students graduate, including many seniors in danger of “stopping out” or dropping out as additional financial barriers arise in their final semesters. Soon after Future Focus awards began, the COVID crisis began – and the Future Focus Fund expanded to provide additional funds to help students in need of emergency aid to help pay for not only tuition but other critical expenses like rent, groceries, and car insurance.
Now completing its second year of awards, the Future Focus Fund has provided more than $290,000 in scholarships and emergency aid to more than 250 students. This number continues to grow throughout the spring semester, with a new year of awards planned for 2021-22.
Kristina Klemens, UW-Parkside director of student scholarships and financial aid, leads the university’s efforts
to connect students with financial resources throughout the pandemic. UW-Parkside has received more than $3.78 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) funding, which Klemens said they used to “focus on those students who could really use” more help, through direct awards to students.
While this amount of federal funding was significant, its strict award criteria meant that some areas of student need were not eligible for funding. Future Focus funding was used to support student populations that couldn’t access the CARES Act funding, like international students, or types of expenses that were ineligible for federal funding – including, in some cases, tuition.
“Without that alumni and community support through the Future Focus Fund, there would have been a lot of students we wouldn’t have been able to help,” said Klemens.
Post-COVID-19 – Helping students succeed
As the university and the rest of the world are hopefully moving beyond the pandemic in 2021 and into 2022, the Future Focus Fund’s role will remain the same as it was when UW-Parkside established it three years ago – to help struggling seniors cross the finish line.
“COVID has heightened the need, but the need has always been there,” said Klemens. She noted that the pandemic has increased awareness of the financial challenges of UW-Parkside students – more than half of whom are Pell grant eligible, a financial aid indicator of low income status.
For Klemens, the program’s success over the past year gives great momentum to fuel the next chapter in the Future Focus Fund’s success. “I’m happy to say that, of those who were awarded Future Focus scholarships, 60 percent have either graduated, or are graduating in the spring and summer 2021 terms,” said Klemens.
The success also feeds the university’s bold goal of graduating 50 percent more students by 2025. “That’s the whole reason for the Future Focus Fund – to help us make the goal a reality and help students complete their college careers. If students are running into money issues, if they have that financial gap their senior year, the Fund is there to help.”
MEET BRANDON MITCHELL
Like many UW-Parkside students, Brandon Mitchell has worked hard to make it through his college career. But unlike some of his colleagues, Brandon faced a challenge that he used as extra motivation to pursue his life’s work.
For his entire childhood and teen years Brandon suffered from uncontrolled epilepsy, which significantly impacted his education and plans for his future. Thankfully, a successful surgery left him seizure-free – and gave him the opportunity for a life-changing decision.
“This result forever changed my life. It opened the doors for me to do what was never possible before,” said Brandon. “From that point, I knew I would spend the rest of my life preparing for and pursuing a career in medicine.”
Brandon started college at UW-Parkside, but getting through four years still wasn’t easy financially. “Due to financial need, I have worked two jobs 60-80 hours a week for a private ambulance company and in the emergency room of under-served Milwaukee communities for a large portion of my undergraduate career,” said Brandon. “I struggled because my only option was to work full time and I didn’t want to put school on the back burner.”
Brandon’s undergraduate career took longer than most students due to his work and family obligations. Thanks to the Future Focus Fund, he was able to get the aid he needed to take additional classes and move closer to his degree. When his wife’s job was impacted due to the pandemic, additional Future Focus support ensured he didn’t have to slow down again.
“When I had more time to focus on my academics, I thrived. My GPA has improved dramatically,” said Brandon. “The Future Focus Fund allowed me to show my true potential and dedication academically in the classroom. Scholarships allow me to focus on becoming the best I can be for others while eliminating the stress and distraction of trying to pay for tuition on my own.”
MEET ZAYDI TEJADA
Zaydi Tejada, a first-generation college student from Kenosha, was preparing for her year as an Applied Health Sciences major at UW-Parkside last summer, when the shooting of Jacob Blake led to civil unrest in the Uptown neighborhood. Tejada’s family’s convenience store and restaurant were located in a building that was destroyed by fire. “We lost our livelihood in just a blink of an eye and we were devastated,” Tejada said.
With tuition due and no way to pay it, her dream of becoming a pediatrician and making life better for families in her community was now in jeopardy. Support through the Future Focus Fund helped Tejada cover her tuition, so she can continue on to realize her dream and graduate on time.
“I can’t thank you (supporters) enough that you took that weight off my parents’ shoulders,” Tejada said. “Thanks to this scholarship; I’m inspired to work harder. I’m so grateful I didn’t have to sit this year out of school. Someday I hope I am in a position to help others the way you have helped me.”