St. Cloud State group helps student parents
St. Cloud State group helps student parents
Jun 27, 2012
Amanda Toppe smiles while leading a young student parent group June 19 at St. Cloud State University. / Dave Schwarz, email@example.com
Some might consider raising a child in college a burden, but Katie Harms said her son, Garrett, is her motivation to finish her nursing degree so they can live a better life.
“Seeing the big picture keeps me motivated,” Harms said. “I’m working to get a good job to live comfortably with Garrett and make him happy.”
Harms, 19, said she had always envisioned college in her future, but when she became pregnant at 17 she didn’t know if she would even graduate from high school. After initially feeling panicked and overwhelmed, Harms said, she has found focus in school and life through raising her son.
Although her parents and friends have been encouraging, Harms said they don’t understand the challenges she faces as a student parent, which is why she participates in the Student Parent Support Group at St. Cloud State University.
“Before, I didn’t know other student parents, so it’s about finding and meeting people like me,” she said. “It’s a place to go for people like me who feel stressed out or lost.”
The support group is a component of the Young Student Parent Support Initiative, which was started in November as part of a $280,000 grant the university received from the Minnesota Department of Health. Grant Coordinator Amanda Toppe said the initiative is intended to help student parents connect with one another and use all the resources available to them on campus and in the community.
“Ultimately, we want to help college students provide a better life for themselves and their kids,” Toppe said.
College burdens students financially and takes time away from their children. Toppe said it is difficult for parents to earn their degree with those challenges. Developing a support system is especially important to help student parents cope, Toppe said.
“It’s a great way to connect with others who truly understand the challenges they face,” Toppe said.
The support group meets monthly during summer, but Toppe said it will meet weekly when classes resume in the fall. She plans to have guest speakers who can share helpful information about finances and health issues, but Toppe said the group’s priority is to give students an opportunity to share their experiences, parenting tips and success stories.
After becoming pregnant her first semester, Emily Beckermann graduated from St. Cloud State with a degree in social work and minor in sociology while raising her daughter, Jordan, who is now 6. Beckermann hopes to volunteer as a mentor with the support group to help young women going through the same experiences she did. The initiative is a connection to the campus she missed out on.
“The only time I was on campus was when I was in classes, because afterward I had to go home and take care of my daughter,” Beckermann said. “It’s hard to relate to other students in your classes because as a parent they’re not on the same page you are.”
Having a child gave her life direction. She discovered how difficult it is to navigate the system when she looked into resources such as the Women, Infants and Children program and food stamps, Beckermann said. She wanted to help people dealing with the same issues she came across, and her daughter gave her the drive she needed to finish college.
“Programs like the Young Student Parent Support Initiative are important because they help get young parents into school and without this support they might choose a different path and miss out on opportunities that college provides,” Beckermann said.
Harms said that being part of a support group with Beckermann is inspiring because it makes her believe she can succeed, too. Her biggest struggle as a student parent is finding a balance between spending time with her son and studying, but managing college expenses also is difficult. She has to support two people with financial aid intended for one person and although she researched scholarship opportunities for single mothers, Harms said she couldn’t find any until the initiative provided her with resources.
Toppe said there is only a certain amount of financial aid student parents quality for, and the Mary Beth Wedum Single Mother Scholarship is a specific opportunity for student parents. Twenty scholarships are available and students who apply must write a personal statement, which Toppe said is an experience that benefits them financially and academically.
The initiative is in an experimental stage and Toppe said she is learning from institutions that already have successful student parent programs in place, such as the University of Minnesota. As a St. Cloud State alum, Toppe said she feels a strong connection to the community and campus and understands how important an education is for student parents to be successful.
“By supporting student parents we are supporting their children and future generations and these types of programs can only make our community better,” Toppe said.