Students in Fresno State’s Renaissance Scholars Program — for those who have experienced foster care or homelessness — deal with obstacles most students don’t face. 

More than 23,000 children “age-out” of foster care every year in the U.S., according to the National Foster Youth Institute. After reaching the age of 18, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly “independent” and homeless. And fewer than 3% will earn a college degree at any point.

To address this issue, Fresno State established the Renaissance Scholars Program in 2008, to provide comprehensive support to college students who were formerly in foster care or homeless, by offering services including admission assistance, counseling and mentoring. 

The year-to-year retention rate for Renaissance Scholars is 77%, and over 60% of graduates have gone on to pursue master’s or doctoral degrees. The graduation rate at Fresno State for Renaissance Scholars is 53% — far above the national average for former foster youth.  

During a celebration of life Friday in Fresno for her late husband, George, Melodie Rogers announced, alongside Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, a $1 million gift to establish “The George and Melodie Rogers Foundation Renaissance Scholars Summer Internship Program Endowment.”

“This heartfelt and generous gift from Melodie and George Rogers will create a world of opportunities for our Renaissance Scholars,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. “The experience our students will receive through these internships represents a unique opportunity of growth and belonging; exactly what they need to become the  next generation of leaders.”

Internships provide professional, educational experiences that are essential in preparing students for a smooth transition into the workforce. But some internships are unpaid. With the significant financial challenges that Renaissance Scholars already face, these unpaid opportunities often aren’t viable options for them. 

The endowment from the Rogerses will remove that barrier for Renaissance Scholars, reinstating a summer internship program that was discontinued in 2015 due to lack of funds. 

Each participating student will earn a $2,400 stipend for hours dedicated to their internships. Throughout the summer, students and professional mentors will participate in ongoing meetings to discuss the internship experience and outcomes.  

George Rogers, who died in February, founded and owned Fresno-based national staffing agency PrideStaff, which has operated since 1978. George Rogers earned a business degree from Fresno State in 1971. 

Demonstrating a heart for the program’s work, George and Melodie have been generous donors previously. With this latest gift honoring her husband, Melodie sees this as a continuation of their life’s work and a way to have a direct, positive impact on the lives and academic success of Renaissance Scholars.

“Our Renaissance Scholars are deserving of the same opportunities as all of our students,” said Dr. Carolyn Coon, dean of students and acting vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Fresno State. “This gift will help give them a pathway for success as they navigate higher education, and this program will provide them with the support network of a family. The internships will give them the experience and confidence they need to believe in themselves —an element often found at the core of our families.”