McGregor Fund Grant Focuses on Detroit Student Success

“Our goal is to engage students in their college education, help them develop positive relationships with other students and faculty, and equip them with the skills to be successful after college graduation.” — Denelle Brown

Alma College has received a $175,000 grant from the McGregor Fund to make a college education a reality for qualified high school students from low-income families in the Detroit area.

The McGregor Partners in Education program will focus on student retention as well as recruitment, with college graduation the result of successful retention, says Denelle Brown, director of diversity and inclusion at Alma College.

Denelle Brown Denelle Brown

“Increasing the enrollment and persistence of economically disadvantaged and first-generation students from Detroit is only one measure of how we will evaluate the success of this program,” says Brown. “Our goal is to engage students in their college education, help them develop positive relationships with other students and faculty, and equip them with the skills to be successful after college graduation and have a positive impact in their communities.”

Improving student writing before they are enrolled in college is a major component of the initiative, says Laura von Wallmenich, chair of Alma’s English department.

“As a small liberal arts college that offers small classes and close student-faculty interaction, we are invested in helping students from Detroit succeed at the college level,” says von Wallmenich. “We are focusing on writing because that’s what Detroit teachers in conversation with us have identified as a high need for college readiness.”

Students enrolled in the program will be designated “Campbell Scholars” in honor of Alma College graduate and trustee David Campbell, the longtime president of the McGregor Fund who died July 7 after a battle with cancer.

Laura von Wallmenich Laura von Wallmenich

Building on Alma College’s partnership with Michigan Future Schools (MFS), which supports nine college-prep schools in Detroit, and the college’s experiences with the King-Chavez-Parks mentoring program, the initiative will focus on three strategies for retaining Detroit students:

• Creating a first-year community of Detroit students enrolled as Campbell Scholars at Alma College. The Campbell Scholars will participate in group-building activities and workshops and begin building relationships with peer mentors during a three-day pre-orientation prior to the start of the fall term. Workshop topics will include financial planning, understanding college expectations, study skills, time management, academic success skills, diversity inclusion and identity development.

• Collaborating with MFS teachers to improve student writing. Faculty from the Alma College English department will work with MFS teachers to enhance high school curriculum that prepares students for writing-intensive courses as well as to learn from the high school teachers how best to bridge the gap between high school and college for these students.

• Offering a college-level summer course to MFS sophomores and juniors. Offered in summer 2015, the class will involve sessions on the Alma campus as well as in Detroit. The class, to be developed collaboratively by Alma and MFS teachers, will be designed to take advantage of the learning environments offered by both cities.

Earlier this year, Alma College entered into a partnership with MFS that provides scholarship support for Detroit Edison Public School Academy students who meet admission requirements. The partnership was one of the 100 commitments announced last January as part of the White House Initiative to expand access to colleges for low-income students.

The grant will fund activities for two years as a pilot project with MFS, with the goal of expanding the initiative to other inner-city schools in Detroit.

The Detroit-based McGregor Fund is a private foundation established in 1925 by gifts from Katherine and Tracy McGregor “to relieve the misfortunes and promote the well-being of mankind.” The foundation awards grants to organizations in the following areas: human services, education, health care, arts and culture, and public benefit. The area of principal interest of the foundation is the City of Detroit and Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. The McGregor Fund has granted nearly $220 million since its founding and had assets of $164 million as of June 30, 2013. Visit for additional information.

Alma College, a private residential college located in the middle of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, offers a personalized education with multiple paths and experiences leading to student success. Strong academic programs and a deep regard for students as individuals are fundamental to an Alma education. Founded in 1886, Alma College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. For more information, visit

Story published on July 21, 2014