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Unique new program at Pitt State helps students who face barriers

Barriers facing some college students are relatable to Megan Stoneberger Johnson: she was a first-generation student. Today, as the coordinator of a unique new program at Pittsburg State University, she’s focused on helping those who face barriers transition to life on campus.

Communities in Schools of Mid-America, which since 1995 has served K-12 students in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Iowa, was reborn this year as SparkWheel to better reflect the power and passion brought to solving student struggles.

Pitt State is hosting the first university SparkWheel program as a pilot that Johnson hopes can be replicated at other universities in future years.

“Students who come from low-income households, those who have been in foster care, those who are first generation like I was — they might face barriers that other students do not,” Johnson said. “This is a program that helps to remove some of those barriers so that they can focus on getting to class and getting an education.”

Helping students adjust

Coming to campus was a whole new world for Johnson.

“Being the first in the family to go to college, it was challenging to navigate financial aid, understand the jargon and offices of higher ed, and the feelings of being an outsider,” she said.

“That’s why I’m excited for SparkWheel to be on campus and to be able to provide that assistance to students who are in the same shoes I was in,” she said. “I want to let students who may feel out of place in the uncharted territory of college know that they belong here, that they are trailblazers in their families, and that they can achieve the success they hope for."

Through grit and determination, she went on to earn three degrees from Pitt State and throughout her career has sought jobs that allowed her to positively impact the lives of youth, including serving as a job placement specialist for clients in Beyond Tomorrow, as a family support worker for TFI Family Services, as a high school teacher, and as a family education and support specialist for the Economic Security Corporation of the Southwest Area.

“I want to help other students achieve their dreams, too,” she said. “And that starts with adjusting to campus life.”

Providing a safety net

In her role as SparkWheel’s student support coordinator at Pitt State, she will work with students from a variety of backgrounds, including those who:

  • have been in foster care

  • have moved here from a large city

  • are experiencing food or housing insecurity

  • have a lack of social and emotional support off campus

  • are balancing parenting while in school

"I'll assess their individual needs, help them set their goals, and check in with them each month,” Johnson said.

Deatrea Rose, associate vice president of Inclusion and Belonging at Pitt State, said the university worked with agencies such as DCF and KVC Kansas to launch the program.

“When we envisioned this position, we thought about those who don’t have any safety nets,” she said. “This can be their on-campus safety net. We want this to be a visible program, to work across all aspects of campus, from athletics to academics and everything in between, to help students achieve their goals."

Get in touch:

Students interested in connecting with Johnson may reach her by email or may drop by the Office of Inclusion & Belonging in the lower level of the Overman Student Center M-F, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or may call 620-235-4927

Read the original article at the Gorilla Connection here.


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