San Marcos,
14:30 PM

Stearns Create New Home for Former Foster Youth

By Christine Vaughan

Home to a one-of-a-kind program that provides support to former foster youth pursuing their college degree, the new Jan and Esther Stearns Center for ACE Scholars officially opened its doors at a grand opening celebration on Tuesday, Feb. 10.

In the fall, the Stearns gifted $1 million to ACE Scholars Services – the largest donation in the program’s history – to establish the center, as well as an endowment that will provide ongoing support.

“Very few people really understand the circumstances of young people who have been in foster care – but CSUSM gets it,” said Esther Stearns, who became involved in the program five years ago after reading a news article about ACE in the U-T. Stearns and her wife are longtime advocates for foster youth and have three adopted foster children.

“We are moved and humbled to be part of this innovative program that is making a difference in the lives of former foster youth,” she added. “We think of all of the ACE Scholars as part of our family, and we are thrilled to partner with CSUSM to ensure that this good work continues for many generations to come.”

A New Home and a Stronger Future

Located off Tukwut Courtyard in Craven Hall suite 3400, the new center features a large study area outfitted with new computers, a state-of-the-art training room, program offices and a community resource office, as well as a spacious student lounge furnished by Jerome’s Furniture.

ACE currently serves 55 students. With the Stearns gift, CSUSM will have the capacity to grow the program to twice that size, serving up to 100 students.

More than 200 guests gathered in Tukwut Courtyard for the dedication of the new center. The occasion was an emotional moment for President Haynes, who fought back tears twice as she thanked the Stearns for their generosity and shared commitment to former foster youth.

“Cal State San Marcos is fortunate to have two community-minded heroes that share our appreciation for our ACE Scholars,” said Haynes. “We are so very proud to place their names on the Center’s wall and dedicate this new space in their honor.”

Blazing a Trail for Foster Youth

Founded in 2007, ACE Scholars Services—also known simply as ACE—is an on-campus, comprehensive resource program for former foster youth, meeting their unique needs and improving their rates of matriculation, graduation and career success. Working from a place of trust and understanding, ACE offers counseling and 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 admission agreements with the Counties of San Diego and Riverside. This May, the program will have 37 alumni.

“When I began my presidency at CSUSM a little over a decade ago, I directed our efforts toward achieving an audacious goal – we would settle for nothing less than raising the educational attainment rate for our region,” said President Haynes in her remarks at the grand opening. “This meant actively reaching out to and serving populations for whom the dream of a college education remained out of reach. Today, we stand as a university that stands for these students.”

ACE Scholars Services serves more former foster youth per capita than any other university in the nation and prides itself on its high rate of student retention, which exceeds the national average by 30 points at 80 percent.

“From our hearts, we want to thank Jan and Esther Stearns for what they have done to build our new home on campus,” said ACE Scholar Karen Lopez, on behalf of her fellow scholars. “Without your help, devotion and support, many of us would not in the promising places in our lives that we are today.”

At the ceremony, ACE Scholars Services Director Jim Mickelson presented the Stearns with a symbolic lifelong key, which will hang in an honored place within the center.

“This key will serve as a reminder that this place that you helped build is as much your home as it is ours,” said Mickelson to the Stearns. “Because of you, future generations of ACE Scholars will find the gates of opportunity open to them at Cal State San Marcos.”