New Program Offers Opportunity for Former Foster Care Students

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Craig W. Sandahl, a successful entrepreneur from Des Moines, is dedicated to giving foster children who have aged out of the foster care system a chance to pursue a college degree and build a future.

A “Guardian Scholars” program established at Buena Vista University by Craig and his wife, Elizabeth, is the first of several he wants to see started at Iowa colleges. Two BVU students were selected as Guardian Scholars this past academic year. A third student will be starting this fall because of the generous support from an anonymous donor.

Craig first became aware of the challenges facing foster children who want to attend college after he had formed a business partnership with Ronald V. Davis, former chairman of the Perrier Group of America. Davis founded the Guardian Scholars program in 1998 at his alma mater, California State University, Fullerton (, which Craig has used as a blueprint for BVU’s program.

“I was so impressed with what Ron had done at Fullerton that I wanted to get Guardian Scholars programs started in Iowa,” says Craig. “This is something that has great potential and is very worthwhile for America.”

Craig got his first close-up look at BVU in the fall of 2009 when he attended the William W. Siebens American Heritage Lecture. He was impressed by what he saw. When he decided to start a Guardian Scholars program in Iowa, he thought BVU would be a good place to begin.

“With the program at BV, I hope to see the Guardian Scholars create interest among other potential donors,” he explains. “I would like to see as many as five or six programs at Iowa colleges by next year. If we could get 100 people to commit to sponsoring a Guardian Scholar, that would be an important benchmark to me.” 

At BVU, Craig would like to see 20 students in the Guardian Scholars program over the next five years.

As part of the Guardian Scholars program, Buena Vista provides year-round housing for the students on the Storm Lake campus, summer employment on campus, a stipend for textbooks, as well as academic, social and spiritual support services. Mark Shea, BVU’s director of student success, serves as a liaison with the Guardian Scholars and assists them in connecting with needed campus services.

“Because these students don’t have a family structure to help them, one of the most important things for BVU and other colleges to do is have mentors for them and help provide a ‘safe harbor,’ someone they can go to when they have problems,” says Craig.

Craig has met with BVU’s two Guardian Scholars who he says are “terrific young people.”

“I told one student that whether she realized it or not, she was beginning the Guardian Scholars at BVU and in Iowa and would be an important spokesperson for this program.”