Former Mason students use Generation Hope grants to help student parents and their children

headshot of Colleen Forsee
Colleen Forsee. Photo provided

Colleen Forsee attended George Mason University for two years studying public administration, while caring for the child she had when she was 15. While Forsee has not yet graduated and instead focuses her time on raising five children, she still recalls how challenging it was to be a young college student with a child. Forsee wanted to find a way to help other parents navigate child-rearing and going to college.

Forsee received a $500 grant from Generation Hope to create nature kits to encourage outdoor play and foster parent-child engagement in natural settings. Forsee’s seven kits, filled with weaving material, playdough, games and seeds to grow pea plants, can be found in various locations on the Fairfax Campus, including Student Union Building (SUB) I.

“I wanted to provide student parents and their children with fun activities that helped bring a busy family back to the natural setting,” Forsee said. “Spending time outside is a good emotional regulator.”

Forsee and Mason alumna Carla Rocha are two out of 12 winners of Generation Hope’s “Our Campus, Our Voice” initiative, which challenged people to come up with ways to create more family-friendly college campuses.

headshot of Carla Rocha
Carla Rocha. Photo provided

Rocha, who graduated from Mason in 2019 with a degree in integrative studies, stocked 13 child activity kits with toys, books, coloring materials and other child-friendly supplies that are also available throughout the campus.

“It’s important for student parents to feel that they belong at the university, and this is one way to help,” said Rocha, who attended Mason as a single parent. “I wanted to help student parents feel like they could bring their children with them while they went around campus or studied. I wanted them to know that they were welcome at Mason.”

Generation Hope is a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to helping young mothers and fathers become college graduates while readying their children for early education. Generation Hope also advocates nationally with student parents and tries to address the financial and emotional hurdles standing in the path of them pursuing a college degree.

Mason alumna Nicole Lynn Lewis, founder and chief executive of Generation Hope, said the “Our Campus, Our Voice” challenge is a “wonderful opportunity for student parents to show us what they and other student parents need in educational spaces” to make them more child-friendly.

photo of component in Colleen Forsee's kits
Colleen Forsee’s kits are filled with weaving material, playdough, games and seeds to grow pea plants. Photo provided

“There are so many barriers to student parents, so we thought the challenge was a way for us to live out our values and lean on their expertise,” said Lewis, who graduated from Mason in 2006 with a master’s degree in public policy. “The projects have all been so innovative, and we are hoping college leaders take note of what student parents think is needed on campuses.”

“It’s amazing that our student parent alumni and former students are taking the time to give back to current student parents through developing and distributing these kits,” said Kerin Hilker-Balkissoon, director of Mason’s Educational and Career Pathways in the College of Science and chair of the Student-Parent Task Force. “Mason’s collaboration with Generation Hope goes back many years, and we’re excited to continue to partner with them to be more welcoming and supportive of student parents.”