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Umoja Scholarship Fund

Umoja is one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa which means to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race. This fund supports Master of Social Work graduate students who have financial need and support WKU’s goal of promoting a diverse student body as a critical component to its educational mission. It is established by Dr. Saundra Starks, Ashley Blair, Renicha Curtis, and Clarissa Lightsy. 

Dr. Saundra Starks, Professor Emeritus of Social Work and recent MSW Program Director at Western Kentucky University, has over 45 years of social work practice experience which includes teaching, research, consultation, supervision, and clinical practice.  She has numerous presentations and publications in the areas of diversity, women, spirituality, mental health, supervision, cultural competency, mentoring, and leadership training.  Dr. Starks also maintains a part time psychotherapy practice in Bowling Green, Kentucky (Bower, Starks, Reeves & Hayes).  In addition, she serves on several national, international, and local community service committees and boards. She is the most recent past president of the Bowling Green International Center Board for refugee resettlement.  Dr. Starks is also Board Chair for the National Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).   Dr. Starks also has an extensive background of international teaching which includes courses in Taiwan, Tanzania, Ghana and Belize. 

Ashley Blair is a 2018 graduate of the Master of Social work program at WKU.  The field of social work chose Ashley Blair well before she chose the field of social work. Since childhood, Ashley has had a passion for helping others to reach their full potential. Ashley was born and raised in the small capital city of Frankfort, KY. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Louisville in 2011 and proceeded to further her education, earning a Master of Social Work at Western Kentucky University in 2018. As a student at WKU, she was provided many opportunities to develop and provide resources to the Bowling Green Community. Ashley had the chance to implement Life Skills sessions for students of the Academy at 11th Street, which helped to equip them with valuable tools upon graduating high school. She was also active in the Graduate Students of Social Workers organization which complied and distributed Blessings Bags. These bags consisted of basic necessities such as socks, water, first-aid packages, dry food items, toothbrushes, etc., and were supplied to those experiencing homelessness in Bowling Green, KY. Just to name a few. These opportunities and activities were instrumental in developing a lifetime friendship with Renicha Curtis and Clarissa Lightsy. Ashley credits Dr. Saundra Starks for enhancing her education experience at WKU by encouraging her to step outside of her comfort zone and pushing her to fulfill her aspirations in life. Together, the ladies decided to create a scholarship that would greatly benefit students pursuing a social work degree at Western Kentucky who may face hardships similar to those she endured.  

Clarissa Lightsy is a native Louisville Ky. She started her journey on the hill in 2005. At that time she acquired Associate degree in IECE and a Bachelor Degree in Child and Family studies. Upon graduating she obtained employment with CHFS and that sparked her interest in the field of social work. Since the completion of the MSW program at WKU Clarissa has been working as a medical social worker. 

Renicha Curtis is an alumnus of Michigan State University where she has obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. After graduating in 2013, Renicha relocated to Nashville, TN. She began her career at the State of Tennessee Department of Children’s Services as a Case Manager and transition to a subsidy specialist position. There at the State of Tennessee, she found her love for Social Work. She then decided to extend her education by obtaining a Master of Social Work degree from Western Kentucky University. At WKU Renicha met Ashley Blair, Clarissa Lightsey and Dr. Sandra Starks. While at WKU, Renicha begin to face financial hardship to support her education. She realized at that time there were not many grants or scholarships opportunities available for graduate student especially minorities at WKU. After graduation, Renicha was focused on creating a scholarship for minority MSW students who are facing financial hardship to help provide some financial relief.

Through this fund deserving Master of Social Work graduate students who have financial need and support WKU’s goal of promoting a diverse student body will be assisted in perpetuity. 



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 Last Modified 8/25/22