It was college planning night, and our high school classroom was packed with students and families. Session after session, the seats filled and we had to turn people away. People would stand in the hall just in case they could hear what we were saying.
That's when we realized our analysis had been right: students need far more help with scholarships.
We weren't talking about how to apply or how to write the world's best scholarship essay. We weren't talking about gathering letters of recommendation or writing thank you notes. We were simply talking about the best way to find and prioritize scholarships.
In the surveys we've run with students, we receive consistent feedback about the number one challenge when it comes to scholarships: "I don't even know where to start looking."
If you've ever tried to find scholarships on your own, you know it can quickly overwhelm a person. It's almost as difficult as grant writing! The internet is full of scams and clutter. Scholarship search portals are a firehose of opportunities that don't provide easy or clear priorities or strategies. And financial aid offices can't keep huge lists of resources up-to-date, nor can they serve thousands of students in one-on-one advising settings.
But what if we created a program that did just that?
And that's where the idea for Loot Camp was born. Like a boot camp that works to increase individual fitness, the goal of Loot Camp is to work one-on-one with students to help them identify scholarships and to help them gain financial awareness.
When we came up for the idea of Loot Camp, we knew about financial aid literacy on campus, and we knew how hard it was to achieve success within the current program structure. We also knew what it was like for future students and their families to try to make sense of college finances, award letters, and more.
And that's when we saw realized how much impact a program like Loot Camp would have for our current students.
Most scholarship support focuses on high school students, and literacy programs help fulfill federal requirements for current students, but transforming lives requires working with the students in our orientations, residence halls, and campus offices.
The NASPA Foundation Innovation Grant we received allowed us to begin laying the foundation to make this work possible. It allows us to meet students in their natural environments and to have one-on-one conversations. We can meet the intense time and tracking demands associated with a program like Loot Camp. We can produce materials to market the program, to attract more students, and to focus our efforts.
Hundreds of students signed up for the initial event--more than we could possibly accommodate. In a preliminary project run with students in a summer bridge program, the students said Loot Camp had changed the way they thought about and planned for college. They said it made them feel like someone was watching out for them.
Generous support from NASPA Foundation has provided us with the space and drive to develop something that is not only having a positive impact – the work we are doing is becoming part of the fabric of our campus. Eastern Washington University continues to be grateful that opportunities like this exist for student affairs professionals to get creative and explore what is possible.
Stan Pichinevskiy, Scholar Placement Manager, Washington State Opportunity Scholarship
Sam Armstrong, Director, Budget & Administrative Services, Eastern Washington University
Jens Larson, Interim Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, Eastern Washington University
NASPA Foundation Innovation Grant Awardees
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