Luisana Waukau, 30, is a sophomore at UW-Milwaukee, a wife and mother of two daughters. She is also a participant in the university’s Life Impact Program, which helps parents earn undergraduate degrees at the university.
In addition to scholarships, the program provides personal, professional and academic support. In fact, when Waukau and her husband, Jesse, could not afford rent one month, they turned to the program for help.
“[Life Impact] paid it for us…They came through and helped us out,” Waukau said.
The competitive program, which began in 2005, awards $5,000 renewable scholarships. Waukau is in her second year, and her husband was one of the first to participate in Life Impact before graduating from UWM in 2009. The program kept him in school, he said.
“It was really a combination of individuals from the Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation along with myself and others on our campus who recognized the needs of students who have children,” said Jane Hojan-Clark, executive director of the UW-Milwaukee Department of Financial Aid.
Leading the program of 40 student-parents is Life Coach and Program Coordinator Natalie Reinbold. Reinbold and her staff work to identify the barriers that students face so that they can provide ample resources and support.
“One of the issues that student-parents face is a sense of alienation on campus. They’re the only ones that have a little baby at home or they’re the only ones that can’t participate in group projects because of childcare issues. So we do a lot of family-friendly events and also educational workshops,” Reinbold said.
Workshops on how to eat healthy on a budget, networking, résumé writing and time management are among the topics that the program addresses.
“[Life Impact] just keeps us connected because we’re so busy otherwise that we wouldn’t know about a lot of these things,” Waukau said.
Beyond the financial, academic and professional support, the program also provides emotional support.
“Being a student-parent, school might be your third or fourth priority in life…When you [would] lose focus, you kind of had that coach to talk you off the ledge and work out a game plan with you to get back in school,” Jesse Waukau said.
The program also provides assistance with car repair and other student-parent needs through the emergency fund.
“The emergency fund has allowed [students] to get access to dress slacks and shirts and ties, or blouses for the ladies, and start their first internship, which can launch a career. So it’s been a very essential piece for the program,” Reinbold said.
With a graduation and retention rate of 84.2 percent, and with most Life Impact participants becoming employed within six to nine months of graduation, the program has served as a model for other universities, Hojan-Clark said.
For example, Chicago’s DePaul University has reached out to UWM in an effort to apply components of the Life Impact Program to the university’s School for New Learning, which serves adults over 24.
Student-parents’ perseverance in overcoming challenges and reaching “true success in terms of happiness and being self-supporting …is amazing to see,” Hojan-Clark said.
“It really makes being a part of this program so special.”