Providing support for student basic needs—defined as a student’s ability to adequately meet their food, housing, mental health, sleep, child/dependent care, hygiene, and transportation requirements—is crucial because students can focus on their studies when they are freed from worrying about their needs. While the state has made significant strides towards prioritizing student basic needs, Cal Matters estimates that 1:2 California Community College students experience food insecurity while 1:10 California State University students experience homelessness.

As students pursue higher education in what is becoming an increasingly precarious economic environment, the Michelson 20MM Foundation is committed to supporting organizations and institutions that are working to increase persistence and graduation rates by helping students meet their basic needs. In support of these efforts, our next cycle of the Michelson Spark Grants program will focus on Student Basic Needs and will run from September 5, 2023, to September 19, 2023. The cycle seeks to fund projects that support systems-level strategies, create impact at scale, inform public policy, and are in-line with the following focus areas: 

  • Leveraging technology solutions to maximize and measure the effectiveness and efficiency of basic needs supports and capture student academic success. This could include:
    • Systems to help assess student basic needs by providing data that captures the need for additional support and tells the story of who is accessing basic needs services 
    • Streamlining deployment and information about basic needs supports, emphasizing local resources—both on and off campus—for students taking classes online or in-person.
    • Providing support for students during “off-hours,” such as between the hours of when campus departments are closed or during holiday and long-extended breaks.
  • Incorporating basic needs within the campus culture and climate. This could include efforts that strengthen the continuum of care for students’ basic needs. Topics may include:
    • Support for students transitioning between two-year to four-year institutions
    • Identifying students who have stopped or dropped out due to basic needs issues and assisting them with re-enrollment 
    • Using student voices and perspectives to inform student basic needs efforts, policies, programming, etc.
  • Innovative approaches and promising practices that promote positive academic outcomes for students receiving direct financial assistance aimed at mitigating student basic needs concerns. This could include research, evaluation, or efforts that scale the impact of public benefits assistance, tax credits for eligible students, universal basic income, and approaches to liquidating institutional HEERF dollars. 

Michelson 20MM’s Spark Community Advisors (SCA) program sources solutions from people closest to the issue areas the cycle is addressing. SCAs help develop the focus areas and make recommendations on the projects that should be funded. Michelson 20MM’s goal with the SCA program is to dismantle the traditional funder-community dynamic in philanthropy by letting community’s expertise guide program development and grantmaking. To ensure selected projects will not only fulfill the above focus areas, but also make an impact in the lives of students, we have enlisted the help of those who know student basic needs best: students and advocates. Please join us in getting to know the Spark Community Advisors!

Emily Elizabeth
Student Parent, California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB)

Emily Elizabeth is a parenting student in the Master of Social Work program at CSUMB.  She completed her bachelors of psychology in May 2023 and is a student assistant at Basic Needs, a Residential Advisor for family housing and is the President of the Family Friendly club on campus. Elizabeth is passionate about promoting a family friendly campus and meeting the basic needs of parenting students and their children so that parenting students can succeed in their academic goals and inspire the next generation in the process.

Anna “AJ” Johnson
Policy Director, California Competes

As the Policy Director, Anna “AJ” Johnson leads the implementation of California Competes’ policy agenda and policy-focused research activities, including those related to adult education, cross-sector initiatives, postsecondary-workforce alignment, online education, statewide longitudinal data systems, and student parents’ needs.

Prior to joining California Competes, AJ was the Associate Director of Housing and Health at John Burton Advocates for Youth and a Senior Policy Associate at the National Center for Youth Law. In their time as an advocate, they advanced policies to improve the quality of life of children, youth, and young adults experiencing foster care, incarceration, poverty, and homelessness. Before attending policy school, AJ was an educator for six years at the Oakland Unified School District and the School District of Philadelphia.

They hold a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley, Goldman School of Public Policy; an Urban Education degree from the University of Pennsylvania; and a Bachelor of Arts in Social Welfare, Advocacy in Multicultural Settings from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Andrea Mora
Basic Needs Director, University of California, Irvine

Andrea Mora is a proud first-generation, non-traditional University of California, Irvine (UCI),  alumna and works at UCI as the inaugural Basic Needs Director.

Mora opened the first food pantry at UCI in 2015 and has worked with student and campus leadership to secure long-term funding for its operations and expansion into the center that is now known as the UCI Basic Needs Center. In her role, she manages the daily operations and programmatic activities of the center, which is not only a pantry but also offers CalFresh enrollment, case management, and holistic services to ensure students’ necessities are met. Mora participates in campuswide efforts to address college students’ basic needs and advises student leaders. She also serves as the UCI co-chair of the University of California Systemwide Basic Needs Committee.

Passionate about equity and access to higher education, Mora received the 2017 Dynamic Woman of UCI Award for Social Justice and the 2018 Distinguished Leadership Award for the Latinx Community at UCI. In Spring 2018, she gave a TEDx UCI Talk titled Food for Thought: How Action Leads to Hope. Her work on college basic needs has been featured in several media outlets including Inside Higher Ed LA Times, The New York Times, The Today Show, Money Magazine, and KTLA. 

Maya Valree
Policy Analyst, The Education Trust—West

Maya Valree (she/her(s)) is a Policy Analyst (Parenting Students) at The Education Trust–West. Prior to joining The Education Trust–West, Valree served as the graduate student coordinator for the Students with Dependents program at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. In this role, she engaged campus and community stakeholders to increase programming and institutional support for parenting students. Guided by a two-generation approach, Valree advocates for simultaneously addressing the needs of student parents and their children, understanding the complexities and interconnectedness of ecosystems.

Valree is a proud product of three of California’s higher education systems. She earned an Associate of Arts in Public Policy from Santa Monica College; a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of California, Irvine; and a Masters of Science in Higher Education Counseling and Student Affairs from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Joshua Williams
Chief Executive Officer and Consultant, JW1

Joshua Williams is a Los Angeles-based higher education professional and student development expert. He is the Chief Executive Officer and consultant for JW1, prioritizing educational projects focused on institutional capacity building.

Williams serves as the inaugural project manager for the Real College California Coalition, which offers support for incubating, implementing, and assessing equity-based solutions and support services to address basic needs insecurities experienced by students in California’s community colleges. He works with the CEO Affordability, Food and Housing Access Taskforce to support more than 90 California community colleges, helping practitioners and leaders develop a cutting-edge mindset to increase their institutional effectiveness and strengthen California’s ecosystems to support students’ basic needs and promote college completion.

Prior to joining Real College California, Williams was a Practitioner-Researcher for The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, based out of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. In this role, he supported staff, faculty, and leaders at colleges nationwide by providing basic needs coaching and technical assistance training. Williams also led partnership engagement, including strategic programming and communication between the Hope Center and its partner colleges.

His primary practitioner experience includes program direction, advocating for institutional policy change, and providing student basic needs and case management services for former foster youth and first-generation college students. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from CSUDH, and a Master of Science in Counseling from California State University, Long Beach, with a focus on student development in higher education.

We are immensely grateful to the Advisors for sharing their lived experience and look forward to announcing the 2023 Student Basic Needs Spark Grantees.

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation working toward equity for underserved and historically underrepresented communities by expanding access to educational and employment opportunities, increasing affordability of educational programs, and ensuring the necessary supports are in place for individuals to thrive. To do so, we work in the following verticals: Digital Equity, Intellectual Property, Smart Justice, Student Basic Needs, and Open Educational Resources (OER). Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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