Scholar Program

Our annual Kick-off Nights help students
prepare for 
upcoming school year. 

Starfish Initiative is Marion County's only program that combines personalized, no-cost, one-on-one "college coach" mentoring for four continuous years as the foundation for supporting economically disadvantaged students on their path to becoming college graduates.

During the four-year Starfish Experience, Starfish Scholars receive continuous guidance and one-on-one support from individually matched, college-educated mentors who commit to meeting with their Scholar every other week. These mentoring relationships that serve as the cornerstone of the Starfish model not only provide students with a positive role model and consistent source of support outside of their families, they also help prepare students to navigate college and professional environments outside of their urban neighborhoods.

Starfish mentors also help each Scholar to effectively prepare for personal and academic success by supporting their active participation in the three 3C’s of the Starfish model: 1) College Readiness/Access, 2) Career, and 3) Character.

College Readiness/Access

In order to build a foundation that will allow every Starfish Scholar to ultimately achieve post-secondary success, Starfish Initiative prioritizes best in class education attainment for every Scholar during its four-year program. By providing mentoring resources, grade-specific requirements for each year of high school, and individualized support and encouragement to reach graduation plan goals, Starfish Initiative provides Scholar s with the essentials they need to complete an academically strong high school career.  Starfish Initiative works to create a culture not only where Scholars will earn a high school diploma, but also where all Scholars are prepared to pursue post-secondary education and complete college. 


The annual College Visit let's our Scholars
experience the college environment firsthand. 

Each Scholar’s first exposure to the Starfish experience begins at Marian University during Freshman Week, where Scholars learn to navigate the environment of a college campus while receiving a four-day comprehensive introduction to Starfish Initiative. Starfish continues to provide opportunities for college exposure through the four year Starfish experience by organizing at least one group college visit per year, hosting an annual College and career Fair with representatives from universities throughout Indiana, and helping Scholars identify academic and college pathways that fit their aptitudes, interests, and goals. Starfish mentors act as college and career coaches to provide comprehensive support to ensure that all Scholars find success in high school. 

While graduation from high school is an important milestone for every Starfish Scholar, research indicates that at least one-third of low-income students reconsider their college plans during the summer immediately following graduation, and one in five subsequently decide not to enroll in college at all (American Educational Research Association, The Summer Flood: The Gap Between College Admission and Matriculation Among Low Income Students, 2008). While financial and informational barriers can be contributing factors to their decision, a lack of access to professional guidance and support is one of the principal reasons many low-income students fail to matriculate to college (Harvard University, Stemming the Tide of Summer Melt: Investigating Summer Attrition Among College-Intending Low-Income High School Graduates, 2012) To effectively mitigate this “Summer Melt,” Starfish Initiative provides summer college transition support, including a celebratory Senior Celebration, opportunities to meet staff from prospective colleges, college transition workshops, and coordination of peer networks of current Starfish Scholars attending Indiana colleges.


Our annual College and Career Fair provides
with exposure to several career fields
and gives them one-on-one time with college
admissions counselors. 

While Starfish Initiative’s primary purpose is to keep youth on track to graduate from high school, prepared to earn a college degree, we also recognize the importance of helping each Scholar to identify and pursue personal career interests to guide their academic choices and support their long-term success and self-sufficiency. As they begin the Starfish experience, each freshman Scholar is introduced to their free subscription to a career exploration website, Career Cruising. By their sophomore year, Starfish Initiative ensures that all Scholars have taking a career interest test on Career Cruising to identify career pathways that fit their aptitudes, interests, and goals. All Scholars also complete the standardized Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Assessment to help identify personality traits and preferences to help them pursue career choices well-aligned with their personal strengths. To support all Scholars as they follow their personal pathways to the careers of their choosing, Starfish Initiative hosts an annual College and Career Fair, which includes hands-on workshops, career-related resources, and opportunities to network with professionals from a variety of occupations. Throughout the Starfish Experience, all Scholars also have continual access to information about more than 700 career options through the online Career Cruising portal.

While these career exploration resources provide a strong foundation for Starfish Scholars, research also indicates that high school students who gain work experience prior to graduation are more likely to enroll in college and obtain a post-secondary degree (Mortimer, The Benefits and Risks of Adolescent Employment, 2010). Through firmly established partnerships with Starfish Corporate Allies, Starfish hosts Workplace Encounters, these are formal opportunities for Scholars to gain meaningful work experiences through a one day job shadowing experience at a local corporation. Through these work experiences, Scholars not only have an opportunity to build key job skills, first-hand knowledge about career fields of interest, and potential employment networks, they also establish an employment history that, with support from their Starfish mentors, can be incorporated into professional resumes, college scholarship and admission applications, and requests for financial aid.


The annual Leadership Camp is a tuition-free weekend
away from home designed to help Scholars exercise
independence and practice their leadership skills. 


To ensure that every Scholar develops strong leadership and life skills crucial to academic and professional success, each Scholar must adhere to the Starfish Core Values: 

  • Service: I help others and bring value to my community 

  • Growth: I continually set goals and learn from my setbacks 

  • Purpose: I remember why I’m here and actively pursue my dreams 

  • Ownership: I own my choices and behavior and the results they bring 

  • Drive: I push forward on my path to reach my full potential

All events incorporate these core values to help with social and cultural capital development.