Social Work student reaches graduation with determination and Colorado State University support

by Gretchin Gerding

Terrance Harris, spring 2015 social work graduate, recalls growing up in inner city Milwaukee, where he says poverty, drugs, and gangs controlled the city. "Drugs had run rampant in my family as many members of my biological family are addicts. Along with that, my family struggled financially to make ends meet. I grew up in a single-parent household where my mom did whatever it took to support me and my two older siblings," said Harris.

However, Harris's mom also struggled with her personal health as she battled lupus for most of her adult life. His mom died from kidney failure when he was 13. "I would say that was the defining point to who I am as a person," he said.

Harris cites lack of parental support and challenges to financing college as two of the biggest obstacles he had to overcome to get to graduation. After his mother passed away, he lived with his brother in Beaufort, S. C., for two and a half years. "That was also a tough time on me because my brother was gone most of the time since he was in the military. I had to learn how to support myself and grew up pretty fast. During that time, I made the decision to go to college partly due to my academic success, my family's influence, and because I wanted to try something new," said Harris.

Harris came to CSU thinking he wouldn't be able to stay in college. He knew college was expensive, especially for out-of-state students. His brother offered to pay for the first year and he got a job, but had no scholarships and didn't think he would make it past freshman year. He credits several programs at CSU with helping him succeed. "Thankfully, I was connected to the Academic Advancement Center, the Fostering Success Program, Christie Leighton in Student Financial Services, and many other people who helped me obtain scholarships and other sources of funding to pay for my expenses," said Harris.

The Fostering Success Program at CSU supports former foster youth who have aged out of the foster care system and who are attending CSU without the support of their families. The Academic Advancement Center at CSU is a U.S. Dept. of Education funded program to help low-income, first generation students, foster youth, and students with disabilities succeed in college and earn their degrees.

This year, Harris was the first recipient chosen to receive the Anne Blair Scholarship from the College of Health and Human Sciences, a new scholarship established by donors Anne Blair ('76) and her husband John Blair ('74). 

Harris credits especially one person who helped connect him to resources at CSU: Kim Grubbs, a professional staff member at the Associated Students of Colorado State University and Harris's supervisor. "Kim gave me my first job at CSU and really helped me grow into the person I am today. She is the main reason I have made it this far. She encouraged me to branch out which resulted in me participating in various clubs and organizations," he said. Harris has been a part of Residence Life as an RA, served as a Social Work Ambassador, worked at the Matthews House, and has been actively engaged in the community all fours years at CSU.

After graduation, Harris was accepted to the Teach for America program and will be teaching ninth grade Humanities at Cole High School in Denver. "I want to continue to give back to the community, and believe that spreading education is the first step in building a better future for our society," said Harris.