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 Core Essentials of the Starfish model: 1) College Readiness and Success, 2) Career Exploration, and 3) Youth Leadership.

College Readiness and Success

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 guide books for each year of high school, and individualized support and encouragement to reach annual High School Graduation Plan goals, Starfish Initiative provides Scholars with the essentials they need to complete an academically strong high school career. As Scholars matriculate through high school, 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 Butler University during Freshman Week, where Scholars learn to navigate the environment of a real college campus while receiving a five-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 to identify academic and college pathways that fit their aptitudes, interests, and goals. Starfish mentors also provide comprehensive support to ensure that all Scholars successfully enroll in college, and apply for scholarships and financial aid as they prepare for high school graduation, and successfully transition to post-secondary education.

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 Grad Night, opportunities to meet staff from prospective colleges, college transition workshops, and coordination of peer networks of current Starfish Scholars attending Indiana colleges.

Career Exploration

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 completes a Holland Code career assessment to identify interest-based and skill-directed career options. By their sophomore year, Starfish Initiative ensures that all Scholars have identified career pathways that fit their aptitudes, interests, and goals, as aligned with the Indiana After School Specialty Standards for College Readiness. 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 located in the neighborhoods where Scholars attend school, in early 2014 Starfish Initiative will begin providing formal opportunities for Scholars to gain meaningful work experiences through job shadowing, internships, or part-time summer jobs with local employers. 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.

Youth Leadership

To ensure that every Scholar develops strong leadership and life skills crucial to academic and professional success, as previously noted, Starfish Initiative begins the four year journey with Freshman Week at Butler University. Freshman Week sets the foundation for the Starfish program by fostering the development of youth leadership skills, including business etiquette, poise and confidence, basic financial literacy, and goal setting and attainment. During the annual College and Career Fair, community professionals facilitate hands-on workshops to help Scholars develop perseverance and passion for long-term goals using the Grit Framework (Duckworth, et. al, 2007).


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

Throughout the four year program, all Scholars also have the opportunity to attend the annual Leadership Camp, a tuition-free weekend away from home designed to help Scholars exercise independence, build self-confidence, and practice leadership skills with their peers. For many Scholars, Leadership Camp provides their first chance to spend a weekend away from their urban neighborhoods, giving them a glimpse of the possibilities that await them as they pursue their college dreams.


Starfish Initiative also recognizes the importance of engaging Scholars in community-based volunteer opportunities. In fact, research demonstrates that volunteering serves as a key indicator of college and career readiness for high school students (Dávila and Mora, Civic Engagement and High School Academic Progress, 2007). With this in mind, Starfish organizes volunteer opportunities with partner organizations like Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, and encourages Scholars and their mentors to participate in volunteer opportunities together throughout the community. Perhaps most importantly, the Starfish Experience helps Scholars to build the social and cultural capital necessary to overcome the barriers of poverty to attain academic, personal, and professional success, using Ruby Payne’s research-based Bridges Out of Poverty framework.