‘Oh my, I got a scholarship!’ Fostering Success supports child welfare focus
Originally published in VCU’s December 2020 Impact magazine.
Ebony Mack (M.S.W.’18/SW) couldn’t help but exclaim.
She had just received an email, in 2017, naming her the first recipient of the VCU School of Social Work’s Fostering Success Scholarship.
“I think I was at work, and it came through. ‘Oh my, I got a scholarship!’ I yelled out loud,” she says.
The $500 scholarship helped in ways expected – books, school supplies – and unexpected.
“I would drive to class and typically get on-street parking,” says Mack, an adoption social worker at Henrico-based C2Adopt. “But if I was running a little late, I could afford to park in the garage and be a little closer. The scholarship gave me that flexibility.”
The Fostering Success Scholarship is just one example of the more than 300 scholarships worth $300,000 that were awarded to social work students over the course of VCU’s eight-year Make It Real Campaign, which ended June 30, 2020.
The school surpassed its original goal of $2.25 million with a total commitment of $3.2 million; $2.5 million of that – 80 percent – came from alumni like Marcia Harrigan, Ph.D. (M.S.W. ’74/SW; Ph.D. ’89/E).
Harrigan, who spent 31 years as faculty and administrator at the School of Social Work, led the push for the Fostering Success Scholarship, which supports students interested in working in the foster care system or with child/youth/family development.
She used a one-time payment and monetary retirement gifts as seed money for the endowment in 2011. In 2014, she decided to support the focus of her pre-academic career: working with children and families.
“I looked back and realized foster care was kind of a thread, and children and family research and services were a bigger thread,” she says.
Fundraising events started in 2017, with assistance from Ann Nichols-Casebolt, Ph.D., former social work faculty and administrator and VCU research administrator, and Suzanne Fountain (Ph.D.’02/SW), a longtime practitioner and an administrator in Virginia’s social services system.
“This is about more than the financial aid,” Fountain says. “To me, a diverse body of donors supporting the Fostering Success scholarship makes a statement: It says that what practitioners do to serve children and families is so highly valued that it’s important enough to those of us already working in the field – or retired from the field or advocates for the field – to choose social work education as a personal priority for our giving. I’m proud to be a part of making that statement.”
Both Nichols-Casebolt and Harrigan say that while the students appreciate the financial support, the more important sentiment may be that they simply feel appreciated.
“The students who have gotten the scholarship have been so thankful,” Harrigan says. “I’m sometimes embarrassed the awards aren’t more, but they’re so grateful, whatever the amount. And it isn’t just the money but the recognition of the importance of their career goals. They will be our leaders in social work.”
Add Nichols-Casebolt: “The costs today are so much higher than when I got my degrees. And, in my associate dean position, I saw the importance of even a small amount of scholarship support to these students – they were so appreciative! It was not only additional money toward their expenses, but the scholarship support said that we really wanted them in the School of Social Work at VCU and that their career goals were valued by us.”
The scholarship has been awarded to five others besides Mack: Vicky Tidman (B.S.W.’18/SW), Sarah Kritzer (B.S.W.’19/SW), Cindy Joyner (M.S.W.’20/SW) and current M.S.W. students Angelica Gehlich and Lindsay Pugh for 2020-21, marking the first time two $500 scholarships have been awarded in the same academic year.
“Working in foster care is not terribly glamorous,” Mack says. “So it’s definitely worthwhile to have these ways to highlight work that often goes unthanked.”