Transformative Education: Fostering Success

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This fall, 32 freshmen will form the first cohort for Fostering Success, the newest IUPUI program to be funded by the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. The program coordinator, Michael Kendall, has worked with Charlie Johnson, director of Scholar Support Programs, to develop the program and its curriculum, which is based around a transformative education model. Kendall speaks enthusiastically about the potential to impact students who are emancipated minors, have experienced housing insecurity, have dependents as minors, or have experienced foster care. He says, “When I heard that the program was looking for a coordinator, I jumped on it. I was one of the first applicants.”

Kendall spent the past five years of his career working for 21st Century Scholars. A former scholar himself, he helped a brand new site for the program get started in Terre Haute before acting as a program coordinator for 21st Century Scholars at IUPUI. He was already familiar with the concept for Fostering Success and its curriculum prior to its realization, having spent time discussing its possibilities with Johnson. Coordinating Fostering Success came naturally for Kendall, who says he’s “always been an educator.”

While his instincts to be an educator certainly help, his personal background also allows him to empathize with the students he works with. “Having been raised by a single mom and experiencing things that tend to come along with being from a low-income household, I understand. . . . Lived experience is pretty critical; I think a lot of my success with students is due to understanding where they’re coming from,” says Kendall.

Faculty and staff have to be unafraid to pull back that curtain and let students know they are not alone.

Michael Kendall

“Instead of saying ‘That’s terrible, I can’t imagine experiencing that,’ we are able to say, ‘I get that. That’s normal,’” Kendall explains, emphasizing the value of that empathy. “Faculty and staff have to be unafraid to pull back that curtain and let students know they are not alone.”

The Fostering Success curriculum is similar to that of its sister programs, Nina Scholars and Bowen Scholars, though everything is taught in a condensed timeframe. It is designed to serve freshman students via Summer Bridge, peer mentoring, first-year seminar, and success coaching with the intent of helping underresourced students “fully utilize active learning, personal growth, and self-empowerment.”

“Nina Scholars has shown us that the program’s intentionally structured developmental journey can contribute to uncommon levels of success for those who battle the headwinds of educational inequity,” Charlie Johnson explains, adding that the ultimate goal for the new program is “the successful replication of a cohort-based, high-touch, developmental curricular approach to supporting underresourced students who have experienced some of the greatest challenges in life, much less education.”  

“Inequity is reflected in our students’ mind-sets; they internalize negative messages about themselves and whether they belong. When they get to college, they don’t think they fit in and that they have to fundamentally change who they are in order to succeed. We teach them that’s not the case, that their experience is valuable,” says Kendall. “Everyone’s path to success is not a straight highway; we all have a lot of cul-de-sacs along the way where we have to turn around. Success is not linear, and I want these students to understand that.”

Kendall is looking forward to getting to know the new scholars and guiding them on journeys of self-discovery through transformative education. He says, “I was familiar with the theories, but I had never seen them put into a curricular approach in this way. There are only a couple programs across the nation that intentionally aid students who have experienced foster care, and none are taking the approach we are; the work we’re doing is incredibly unique.”