The Rapidian

T2C Studio receives a $150,000 Wege Foundation Grant Award

T2C Studio aims to increase postsecondary education attainment in West Michigan.

There is never a quiet moment in T2C Studio. The sound of laughter, flipping notebook pages, and chatter constantly echoes across the glass panels ringing around this brightly colored, open-aired space in the main branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

The hustle and bustle is bound to grow. With the recent announcement of a $150,000 Wege Foundation grant award, T2C Studio will soon expand its college readiness services.

“The T2C Studio is an incredible resource,” said Executive Director Lynn Heemstra. “We’re dedicated to advancing racial equity, disrupting structural barriers that exist in the system of higher education.

T2C Studio aims to increase postsecondary education attainment in West Michigan. Available services include assistance with college selection, college applications, and federal student aid.

More than 1,500 Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) students have been served by the T2C Studio since its opening in 2016. Of those participants, approximately 75% identify as people of color and 60% identify as first generation college students.

Many GRPS students struggle to find success in college. While 60% of GRPS students attend college, only 18% of them graduate with a degree.

Students in college often struggle because they lack clear personal or professional goals. Navigating the process of choosing a major, signing up for classes, and finding internships only makes the transition more overwhelming.

“There is a lack of institutional knowledge when your parents can’t help you,” said Sayroan Muhamed, a T2C Studio participant. “I didn’t know where to start, so I went to T2C Studio. They helped me make a plan.”

Financial issues compound the difficulty of navigating the higher education system. Natasha Nash, a Grand Rapids Community College student, works 30 hours per work as custodian at a local school. Nash makes tuition and rent payments, but she finds it difficult to find time for her studies.

The pressure to graduate intensifies for first generation students like Nash, who carry the weight of high expectations. Nash worries that if she does not perform well in her business and criminal justice program she will disappoint her parents.

“The whole family looks up to me,” Nash said. “They’ve got me up here on a pedestal.”

Shayla Young, the T2C Studio Coordinator, hopes to act as a model of success for students like Nash to look up to. As a GRPS graduate and first generation college student, Young applied for a Millennium Gates Scholarship that paid for her undergraduate degree at Ohio State University and doctorate from Michigan State University.

“I am the students I serve,” Young said. “This position is an opportunity for me to give back.”

No two new days are alike for Young. Each morning starts off with a new challenge, ranging from college workshop preparation to fielding questions from the T2C text message system.

As more new students join the program, Young and Heemtra aim to increase retention and deepen relationships with college partners. They are also considering a countwide expansion, with new satellite programs.

“I’ve never seen anything grow so quickly,” Heemstra said. “It’s touching a real need out there.”

 

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