September 22, 2014 — For many foster youth, the dream of attending college is often put on hold in a life marked by upheaval and uncertainty. But through Seattle University’s innovative Fostering Scholars program, nearly 50 foster children have received scholarships since it was established in 2006.
The program, the first of its kind in Washington, offers full-ride scholarships, year-round housing and much-needed support to current and former foster children. As of June 2014, 23 students in the program have received their degrees and have moved on to careers in social work, law, computer technology and public policy or are pursuing graduate degrees.
According to the program’s director, Colleen Montoya Barbano, only three to five percent of foster youth earn bachelor’s degrees. “It’s really shockingly low and I don’t know that many people realize that,” she said. “Coming here is a pretty big culture shock” for foster youth, she added. “We make sure we’re connecting with these students throughout their enrollment.”
Barbano and peer mentors meet and work with students regularly. Developing a stable personal connection with foster kids takes time and patience. “Many just aren’t ready to jump into a trusting relationship,” Barbano said. Once trust is established, students are in her office almost every day. What they want to discuss is “often not about academics,” she said. “We [coach them in] independent living skills and help them navigate the complex system that is a university. We’re the go-to people.”
Seattle University junior and Fostering Scholar Patricia Kama needed that connection and reassurance because her foster family had discouraged her from going to college. “They told me, ‘You’ll fail. College is too hard. You don’t have the brain,’” she said. With help, Kama has proved them wrong.
In 2008, Paula Carvalho became the first Fostering Scholar to graduate, and she has since received her master’s in teaching from Seattle University as well. “College has opened up many doors that would not have been opened up to me had I not worked toward a degree. I am well aware that only about three percent of foster youth graduate college. I am proud to be counted among them,” she said. [Sources: Seattle University, Seattle University Magazine, Seattle NBC KING5, Crosscut.com]