For the past three years, Central Valley Higher Education Consortium Mini-Grants have been awarded to member institutions in support of CVHEC’s mission to increase degree attainment rates. We will highlight how members’ innovative uses for the grants are positively impacting students in our CVHEC e-Newsletters. We begin telling this story with Brandman University which created the Textbook Award Program for 50 students.
CVHEC Mini-Grants support Brandman students in pandemic
In an innovative use of the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium Mini-Grants Program, CVHEC member Brandman University funded the Textbook Award Program, reaching out to its students at three Central Valley campuses for immediate relief to about 50 participants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CVHEC Mini-Grants, in various amounts up to $7,500 each funded by partner College Futures Foundation(CFF), are intended to support activities providing assistance and professional learning associated with Guided Pathways, Math Pathways, implementation Corequisite English and math course development (implementation of AB 705 and EO 1110), and advancement of Pathways for Associate Degrees for Transfer.
For this year’s cycle, in response to the COVID Pandemic and racial unrest last summer, the criteria was expanded to incentivize basic needs and equity, race and social justice work.
This led Brandman to use its Mini-Grant funds to create $150 book vouchers for undergraduate, first-generation students, reports Sonia Gutierrez-Mendoza, director of the Visalia and Lemoore campuses.
“When CVHEC expanded its criteria this year and called for initiatives that could help students during the pandemic, we asked our students ‘what are some of your pain points during this difficult time?’” she said.
“Over and over, we heard them say ‘we can’t buy textbooks because Financial Aid is not in yet’ so with CVHEC’s expanded criteria for the mini-grants, we created this program and notified recipients of their award right before the winter break, when expenses add up for their families.”
Richard Carnes, director of Brandman’s Modesto campus, credited Gutierrez-Mendoza for the Textbook Award ideaand its innovative appeal since the grants are usually applied to long-term pathways projects.
“Those long-term projects are good and necessary, but students need help now,” Carnes said.
“We told our students that CVHEC projects like the Mini-Grants demonstrate to them, and to our university team, that the higher education community here in our Central Valley is united and supportive of your endeavors and want to help make a positive impact on your success and persistence,” he added.
Gutierrez-Mendoza agrees. “Students can’t walk those pathways very well if they have pebbles in their shoes, or worse,” she said. “When we told our students how CVHEC was there with its CFF partner to lend a hand, they were so grateful. To know that, even in a small way, this grant helped students persist in their college education is an amazing feeling.”
That gratitude was reflected in a letter campaign the students undertook thanking Dr. Ben Duran, CVHEC executive director, his team and CFF. The Brandman students, who are adult-learners, shared how the textbook awards positively impacted them during a difficult year.
Bethany Burnes of Brandman University’s Visalia campus, who reported she has been off work for “what seems like forever due to COVID restrictions” while also welcoming her third child born on Christmas Day, said, “Things have been really tight with our household budget and with your assistance some of the pressure is now off of me and frees up some money for my babies. I appreciate this grant so much!”
Karla Melgar of the Modesto campus said the Textbook Award “was such a big help for me and my family since I’m the only one currently working full time. Once again thank you!”
For Marybel Herrera, also a Visalia campus student who plans to graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies, the award is “like the icing on the cake to my last semester at Brandman University. In a time like this, and all the changes that COVID has brought to everyone, this award is a nice change. Once again thank you!”
Duran commended Brandman University for responding to this year’s Mini-Grant program criteria expansion, which was intended to encourage CVHEC member institutions to create innovative ways to help students when the pandemic was having the greatest impact, and creating the Textbook Award Program to help fulfill that need with the grant funds.
“We applaud Brandman for identifying a basic need that was just in time especially during this period in our history when there has been so much uncertainty,” Duran said. “We definitely want to see more students complete degrees and this simple use of our grant dollars shows the great impact a small grant can have when our members are allowed to use their creativity to connect with their students whose immediate needs they know best.”