Shifts during a pandemic.
Today’s college experience is less than typical. This year has brought about uncertainty, grief and loss. Loss of our social lives, loss of our schedules and for an unfortunate sum, loss of a family member. It is sometimes too heavy to bear the weight of the collective trauma the world is experiencing right now. With everything going on, college students are continuing to persevere with the goal of reaching the finish line and obtaining a degree. Our lives do not stop, and college campuses are continuing to figure out the best way to serve students through this uncharted territory. For Epic Scholars feelings of grief, uncertainty and upheaval are all too familiar. Epic Scholars is a scholarship program that serves independent students, many of whom have had experience in the foster care system. I am a peer leader for this program and have worked with our coordinators and colleagues to build a warm, accepting community. Just before the pandemic hit, we were making strides in building the community. We hosted monthly in-person events that usually provided a meal, friendship and meaningful dialogue. Now we are navigating a virtual space, trying to figure out how we can continue to strengthen this community of strong spirits. Below is an interview of a current Epic scholar that addresses their experience as an independent student in a pandemic.
Kiara Galvan is a junior at MSU Denver who is currently pursuing her degree in Social Work. Her path to MSU was not an easy one.
“I was in a really bad place in high school. I was not going to school at all and was going to drop out and I got pregnant. I could barely even take care of myself, so I had made the decision to go back to school and attend an alternative high school. If all I could give to my child was a high school diploma and build off of that then I was going to do that. Unfortunately, I am someone who doesn’t deal with stress in a good manner and I ended up losing the baby because of it. It was a very emotional time for me, but I also felt that everything happens for a reason. Things were just falling into place as things were falling apart so I was just taking everything as it was coming and then one of my college counselors came into my life.”
Kiara was helped by her school counselor and a coordinator of the Excel program at MSU, Luis Sandoval. “My counselor and advocates helped me see past all of that– like the ‘I can’t do it, I can’t afford it, that’s not for me.’” Kiara now finds herself as a peer leader for the Epic Scholars program and attributes her confidence in school to the help of the Epic Scholars Program. “I could not imagine my life without anyone at Epic, I seriously connect with everyone there on a personal level. Everybody in Epic is a survivor of their circumstance. I don’t even have to know what happened, to know that they are a survivor. The vibe is always so loving and warm. I’ve learned so many lessons from everyone in Epic, especially from Miguel, the coordinator. I can’t believe all of the opportunities he’s given me and the opportunities I’ve seen him give other students. That’s what I love about this program, everyone in Epic just gives what they can, when they can, and that’s what a whole family is about. On top of being a support system for me, Epic has literally saved me from being homeless. I don’t have parents to stay with if I need a place to go, so Epic has been my source of safety and support.”
When asked about how the pandemic has affected her college experience, Kiara said its been hard and comes with its own set of challenges when you already didn’t have a familial support system in the first place.
“Especially for us in the program this was our community and we worked so much to build it. We were really getting somewhere; we were having so many people show up to events and really made me feel like we could just grow our program. Now I feel like we are stuck in between where we were about to go and I hate that in-between feeling, the uncertainty is uncomfortable for me. One thing that has been bad, is being inside all of the time. I mean I am a reserved person, so being introduced to a group of people made me feel a different way. It is hard to have that taken away from me, not seeing people in person. So, I am just so thankful that I am able to work in the program and still connect with others in the program [virtually].”
When admitting new members to the program we ask, ‘what makes you epic’ and participants always have unique stories of how and why they are exceptional college students. What makes Kiara epic is her “resilience and bouncing back with whatever happens.” She has gone through some things that are not typical in a college experience. “Each semester I am given a challenge to overcome while trying to overcome the daily challenges with school, no one has ever done this in my family. I see myself as a stronger person because of it. I think I always try to see the best in situations and always try to help others see the better side of things too.” Kiara strives to keep that positivity alive in her own life and uses this philosophy when she helps others navigate their college experience. “You didn’t go through all of that for nothing…make something of it. Don’t make it a negative thing — it can be such a negative thing, but I don’t want to live that life. I don’t want to be another person that let what happened to them, ruin their life. I want to be a strong person.”
There are many others like Kiara in the Epic Scholars program. We use this program to lift each other up and support students, with the end goal of graduation. For more info on the Epic Scholars program visit, https://www.msudenver.edu/epic-scholars/.
about the author
Kailee Bye / 25
Hi, I am a student at MSU Denver and BFA in Communication Design candidate. Throughout my college experience, I have been an independent student and I have had to navigate college alone. With the help of this scholarship program, my experience has changed and I feel less alone in this process. I am an advocate for foster youth and education as a pathway to empowerment and success. I believe college support programs, like Epic Scholars, are vital to the success of students.