Fresno State’s Renaissance Scholars Program received national attention when Kleenex made a video showing the difficulties of move-in day at the dorms when student don’t have family there to support then.
The video features Kizzy M. Lopez, director of the program, and John Hunt Jr., a program graduate, helping Fresno State students move into their dorms and share their experiences. The video has since received over 5 million views.
The video was inspired by Hunt’s experiences when he first started at Fresno State.
“He had talked about how he moved into the dorms alone, and he wanted to make sure that other people in his family or people like him didn’t have to move into the dorms alone,” Lopez said.
Kleenex teamed up with Renaissance Scholars to provide the students with baskets packed full of dorm essentials, room decorations and even simple necessities like toilet paper.
The program has helped students at Fresno State since 2008, and, according to Lopez, it has recently grown, allowing a wider range of students to receive support.
“Just this last year, we have expanded our program to all unaccompanied youth, so that might be homeless, unaccompanied, emancipated minors, orphans, all attending the university,” Lopez said.
The program currently has 54 students that it is working closely with in order to get them through their bachelor degrees.
“If I had to put it in a nutshell, it takes students from surviving to thriving,” Lopez said. “We have a group of students that could get through school anyway because they’re gritty, but this program helps provide them with a network of support so that they can refine themselves.”
Renaissance Scholars is more than an educational tool. The program was created to ensure student graduation success, but Lopez said she tries to focus on minimizing their stresses as well.
“Our services are in three broad categories: academic support, personal or social and financial, so we have a wide range of services,” Lopez said.
Students often take for granted the luxuries of having a family to turn to, and Lopez said the program tries to fill that void.
“We talk about what are the things that are frustrating them with life and school,” Lopez said. “Think about this — if you are used to having mom there just to talk about life stuff, those students don’t usually have that available to them, so we try to create spaces for that.”
While the program focuses on education first, Lopez said, it also tries to focus on other important things like creating memories with one another and building a little community among themselves.
“We do a Thanksgiving dinner and a Christmas dinner together with each other which is great. We even brought Santa Claus out,” Lopez said.
Aside from the emotional and educational support, the program also provides financial support when students need it. According to Lopez, students receive a stipend at the end of semesters if grades are up; they get help studying abroad; money for conferences; and even have an emergency fund.
“The emergency fund helps students when money is short,” Lopez said. “You may go to mom and dad and ask for money for groceries, ‘Can I get $50?’ and they may not have that luxury.”
The program strives to make students feel like they always have assistance — not limited to office hours — so Lopez said they remain available to contact at all times, regardless of the circumstance.
“We’re available to students 24 hours a day. Students have the staff’s cell-phone number available to them,” Lopez said. “We’ve met students at hospitals, changed their tires or brought them soup. You name it, whatever you need from me, I’ve got you.”
The difficulties these students have to face hits close to home for Lopez. She said she was once in their shoes.
“I was in foster care. I was homeless when I started college. I was actually the founding coordinator of this program,” Lopez said. “I don’t have a magic wand, and I can’t fix everyone’s problems, but we can just love on students, support them the best that we can and help make it a little easier for the young people that are coming behind me.”
Since its start in 2008, Lopez said, Renaissance Scholars students have gone on to become directors of programs, university faculty members, teachers and have turned their lives around.
“We’re graduating more students and making our little dent in the world,” Lopez said.