Kingsborough Community College, a Leader College of Distinction, is one of eight institutions participating in the College Success for Single Mothers Project. Continuing its work to support the success of women and mothers on campus, the college launched the Treasure Project, an ongoing initiative to make sure that the voices of student mothers are heard.
The name was carefully selected to reflect the love, care, and hard work that student moms show when pursuing an education, Dr. Stephanie Akunvabey, interim assistant dean of academic affairs, told ATD. “They view their children as their treasure, and that is a central motivating factor.”
Early this month, Kingsborough hosted a special event to highlight the voices and experiences of single mother students and alumni. Panelists discussed the supports and resources that are available to student parents and they shared tips for success and self-care.
Prior to the event, ATD spoke with Dr. Akunvabey about the college’s work to give student parents a platform and increase support for single moms on campus.
A platform for student mothers
“We decided to really think about the message we wanted to send with the work that we were doing around single parents and moms,” she said. “One of the first things we thought about was how we wanted to brand it on our campus. Out work at Kingsborough is called the Treasure Project, based on stories we’ve heard from moms who are making the decision to juggle work, school, and family life. If we ask them why they’re doing this, the answer is normally, ‘I’m doing this to improve things for my kids.’ They view their children as their treasure.”
The college hopes to ensure that student mothers on campus are aware of every opportunity available to them to gain support. “We have a ton of supports on the campus, but they aren’t connected and packaged in a cohesive way that we currently express to students,” said Dr. Akunvabey. The Mother’s Day panel discussion was designed in part to show student mothers that the college recognized them and was ready to support them.
The Mother’s Day panel discussion included Nakisha Evans, Brooklyn executive director of the Jeremiah Program, a nonprofit that works to disrupt generational poverty among single mothers and their children. Kingsborough also brought on Lauren Sandler, author of This Is All I Got: A Mother’s Search for Home. The book follows Kingsborough alumna Camila for a year as she navigates homelessness and the pursuit of higher education as a single mother.
“ATD’s structure made us think more intentionally about success for single parents and moms.”
Leveraging a network
Dr. Akunvabey credited Achieving the Dream’s director of network relations Meredith Archer Hatch with helping Kingsborough first connect with the Jeremiah Program’s Brooklyn chapter. She spoke further about the college’s involvement with the College Success for Single Mothers project, saying that their work with ATD help provide a framework to think about the college’s supports for student parents more cohesively.
“ATD’s structure made us think more intentionally about success for single parents and moms. The Family Friendly Campus Toolkit has helped us think through how to make this work happen in a structured way.”
Using the Family Friendly Campus Toolkit has also helped ensure “visibility for the students who need it most.” Dr. Akunvabey shared a difficulty that many student services programs experience: Often, when students approach the school for support, “they are in crisis mode.” But by increasing awareness around student supports, the college can reach students before the crisis begins. “It’s that whole idea, that a stitch in time saves nine.” Dr. Akunvabey hopes that with greater visibility brought by the Treasure Project, their program can have a bigger impact.
Focus on equity
In addition to their work with the Success for College Mothers initiative, Kingsborough has also been selected to participate in the ATD and USC Race and Equity Center Racial Equity Leadership Academy, an intensive program designed to support college teams in the development of strategic and actionable racial equity plans at their institutions.
“We’re talking about women who treasure their children and are doing everything in their power to make educational attainment a reality for them.”
Racial equity and support for student parents are strongly connected. “It goes without saying that there’s a stigma around Black and Latina single moms. That was why the name of the Treasure Project meant so much to me,” Dr. Akunvabey said. “We’re talking about women who treasure their children and are doing everything in their power to make educational attainment a reality for them. They understand what the generational impact of that will be.”
Asked about how their work has changed during the pandemic year, Dr. Akunvabey first talked about how losing a physical space on campus has affected their programming. “So many of our services are on campus. That’s where our women’s center is. That’s where our childcare center is.” She expressed particular appreciation for the women’s center and the Access Resource Center (ARC) on campus, which have been essential partners in supporting student mothers.
But, like many other colleges, Kingsborough soon realized that remote learning offers flexibility for student parents that can be beneficial to their success. “We’re preparing to send out a survey that specifically speaks to whether or not online learning is something parents want to do in the future,” she said.
From heightened awareness to positive change
Many challenges that students, and particularly student parents, may face in community college — from working and parenting while attending school to experiencing basic needs insecurity — have become more tangible to college leaders during the pandemic. Dr. Akunvabey is optimistic that this shift in awareness will spur positive change going forward.
“I’m hopeful that, rather than talking about these factors as a laundry list of items, that faculty can ask themselves, ‘If these are the circumstances, what can I do within my sphere of influence to speak to these experiences in a meaningful way?’”
Educators and college leaders weren’t ignorant of their students’ challenges before the pandemic, but Dr. Akunvabey hopes that the increased tangibility resulting from the past year will encourage faculty, staff, and leadership to consider the needs of student parents with greater intention and compassion.
Programs like the Treasure Project are strong examples of the transformative, equity-centered work being done across the ATD Network, and particularly within Leader Colleges of Distinction. Learn more about the Leader Colleges of Distinctions here.