CSUSM Receives $1 Million Gift to Name Center for Former Foster Youth
By Margaret Chantung
Jan and Esther Stearns have announced plans to donate $1 million to name the Jan and Esther Stearns Center for ACE Scholars, home to a one-of-a-kind program at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) that provides support to former foster youth pursuing their college degree. Their gift will provide current use funds for Center operations and programs as well as establish the ACE Scholars Services Endowment, providing ongoing support into perpetuity.
The Stearns recognize that most foster youth want to go to college but have numerous barriers preventing them from successfully entering and graduating from an institution of higher learning. According to recent surveys, there are 500,000 foster youth currently living in the United States and approximately 4,000 of these young people are in CSUSM’s service region. Even though 70 percent of foster youth desire a college experience, most age out of the system only to find themselves ill-prepared and unsupported for success: 65 percent become homeless, 20 percent are arrested or incarcerated, and less than two percent graduate from college.
“I have been especially impressed with CSUSM’s commitment to serving first-generation and underrepresented college students,” said Esther Stearns, who is also a member of the University’s Foundation Board. “People come here for opportunity. I’ve talked to students whose lives have been changed through education—and that change has a ripple effect that impacts their entire family and our community.”
Founded in 2007, ACE Scholars Services—also known simply as ACE—is the on-campus "home" to former foster youth, providing services that meet their unique needs and improve their rates of matriculation, graduation and career success. Working from a place of trust and understanding, ACE offers counseling or assistance on anything from housing to academic counseling, financial aid or admissions. CSUSM is the only university that guarantees admission to foster youth and maintains two Memorandums of Understanding with the Counties of San Diego and Riverside.
“The Stearns have generously supported ACE Scholars Services for many years, and this new gift continues and expands our ability to make a Cal State San Marcos education available to every talented, hard-working former foster youth in our region who desires it,” said Jim Mickelson, founding director of ACE. “Their donation assures that the program will have a long and healthy future, impacting countless young people as they move beyond their past and into their bright future.”
Futures Made Possible
Among the students positively impacted by ACE Scholars is Brittany Forester, who recently earned her bachelor's degree in Human Development. Brittany was eight years old when she entered foster care. In and out of more homes than she can count, her resilient spirit kept her determined, inspiring in her a desire to change the foster care experience. While earning her degree at CSUSM, she applied her studies working with at-risk youth at North County Lifeline, a local not-for-profit. When unexpected medical expenses nearly halted her educational dreams, the support of CSUSM's ACE Scholars Services and the help of generous scholarships kept her in school.
In May, Brittany became the first in her family to earn a bachelor's degree. This fall she will begin the Master of Social Work program and take her next step toward her goal of becoming a legislative advocate for foster youth and neglected children. Watch the video below to learn more about her story...
A One-of-a-Kind Program
Thanks to the efforts of ACE, 88 percent of former foster youth at CSUSM go on to graduate, far exceeding the national average of only 50 percent. Over the last seven years, the number of students served annually has grown from nine to nearly 60, making CSUSM the university with the highest number of former foster youth per capita of any other in the United States.
“We are proud to support the efforts of Cal State San Marcos, particularly when those efforts make such a profound impact,” said Jan Stearns. “Students in the ACE Scholars program inspire us with their hard work and determination and we are glad that we can be a small part of their success.”
“We are grateful for the Stearns’ friendship and their commitment to helping our students succeed,” Cal State San Marcos President Karen Haynes said. “With their support, we are fulfilling our goal of raising the educational attainment rate of our region. The Jan and Esther Stearns Center for ACE Scholars is an important part of our culture of inclusiveness as we work to ensure that the most educationally at risk have the knowledge, skills and support that they need to graduate from college, lead meaningful lives and meet our region’s workforce needs.”
A special ceremony will be held in early spring 2015 to officially dedicate The Jan and Esther Stearns Center for ACE Scholars and recognize the Stearns’ philanthropy.
For more information on ACE Scholars Services at CSUSM, visit: www.csusm.edu/ace
“We are grateful for the Stearns’ friendship and their commitment to helping our students succeed. With their support, we are fulfilling our goal of raising the educational attainment rate of our region. The Jan and Esther Stearns Center for ACE Scholars is an important part of our culture of inclusiveness as we work to ensure that the most educationally at risk have the knowledge, skills and support that they need to graduate from college, lead meaningful lives and meet our region’s workforce needs.