Getting through college can be a challenge for the average student, but non-traditional students face unique challenges that threaten their enrollment every day. Non-traditional students often have spouses, full-time jobs and kids that make more demands on their time than their professors. A child can have a simple fever and their parent can miss an entire week of class while taking them to doctor’s appointments and providing care for them at home. TWU’s SPARK, Student Pioneers Also Raising Kids, aims to provide a support system for these students that eases their burden.
A president that understands
SPARK President Megan Alvina is married and has one child with another one on the way, and she understands the challenges that come with being a student-parent first-hand. Alvina has been President of SPARK since it was re-chartered two years ago; she is a Family Studies Major, and she wants to work in higher education, hoping to be an advisor at TWU someday for an organization like SPARK. “We are pretty much a support system for those who need it; we understand what it’s like to have that balance of home, work, school and kids all at once, and sometimes you just need somebody like that to really understand,” said Alvina.
Alvina said that her TWU experience was “a little bit lonely” before she found SPARK, and it has helped her to feel more like a member of the student body; she said SPARK opened her eyes and made her realize that she was not alone. “The next thing you know, you’re not just in an organization. You’ve created friends; you have another family,” said Alvina.
A family for your family
This concept of “family” is of the utmost importance to SPARK, and its goals move beyond integrating just a single student-parent into TWU’s community; its goal is to integrate that student’s entire family. “We have to remember that we’re an organization for the parents, but we need to make sure that we keep the kids in there as well; we want to make sure that we have something interactive for them (the kids),” said Alvina.
SPARK’s goals are not limited to its own program. SPARK also works with other organizations to make them more inclusive. “We try to open up ideas with other organizations on campus on how to make their events more kid friendly so that we can actually pull in the student-parents as well,” said Alvina.
For Alvina, the SPARK experience has opened her up to embracing her traditional classmates as well. “I’ve taken my experiences and talked to traditional students, and they’re really receptive. I think that’s one of the good things about the university here; the students that do come here are very receptive to diversity, and we’re a part of that,” said Alvina.
Always accepting new members
SPARK is growing its membership base, and its charter is specifically designed for student-parents that have limited free time. “We just want our student-parents to know that there is an organization for them,” said Alvina. Membership dues are only $5 a semester, and members can meet their volunteer requirement of just two hours per semester anywhere that accepts volunteers, including their kid’s schools. SPARK Advisor Brittanie Romine summed up SPARK succinctly: “This student organization is not really a demand. As a group, we tend to ease the demands on students and the family-friendly events; our main focus is to make connections and build relationships. We are a family.”
Students can find out more about SPARK in their blackboard shell by performing an organizational search for “Student Pioneers Also Raising Kids.” Students will also find a link to apply for membership in this shell.