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Focus on Fostering Scholars

Scholarship program fulfills higher ed dreams of foster youth

by Tina Potterf2009_summer_scholars_main

President Sundborg, Marta Dalla Gasperina (bottom left) and Colleen Montoya Barbano (bottom far right), director of Fostering Scholars, with recent graduates of the Fostering Scholars program: Christina Koshney, Karla Garcia, Deyadra Blye and Michael Helland.

Photo by Chris Joseph Taylor


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For many foster youth, the dream of attending college is often put on hold in a life marked by upheaval and uncertainty. But thanks to the Fostering Scholars program at Seattle University, many foster youth are fulfilling their higher-education aspirations.

Fostering Scholars was created in 2006 with the support of Marta and Lucio Dalla Gasperina, longtime foster youth advocates who wanted to make college a reality for those in the system whose circumstances might otherwise prevent it.

“We realized how difficult it was for these young people to attain a college education,” Marta says. “We want them to have the same opportunities other students have.”

Through their work with Treehouse, a nonprofit that serves foster youth in King County, the Dalla Gasperinas learned firsthand of the challenges faced by young people in foster care who want to attend college. According to a 2005 report by the state’s Department of Social and Health Services only 25 percent of foster youth enroll in a post-secondary program immediately after high school. Youth who age out of foster care at 18 are one of the most underrepresented and underprivileged groups in higher education, says Colleen Montoya Barbano, director of the Fostering Scholars program.

According to Casey Family Programs’ Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study, fewer than 2 percent of foster youth in the region will earn a bachelor’s degree. Fostering Scholars is working to raise this number and is finding success doing so, with support from federal and state funding,  foundations and individual donors.

Since its inception, Fostering Scholars has supported 20 students with plans to provide scholarships for several additional foster youth this fall.

Paula-Ann Carvalho-Johnson became the first Fostering Scholar to graduate when she received her degree in 2008. Currently she is enrolled in SU’s Master in Teaching graduate program.

“A college degree has opened up many doors that would not have been opened to me had I not worked toward a degree,” she says. ”I am well aware that only about 2 to 3 percent of foster youth graduate college, and that is a statistic that I am proud to be part of.”

For Deyadra Blye, a member of the 2009 graduating class, the scholarship presented a slew of opportunities and experiences for her, including travel abroad in Italy, Nicaragua and Belize.

“Because of the scholarship I was able to go on these trips and have amazing experiences,” says Blye, a psychology major who wants to work with inner-city youth. “This has opened up so many doors.”

In June, Karla Garcia, ’09, earned a degree in social work with plans to attend graduate school within two years.

“Getting through college never seemed feasible to me,” Garcia says. “…This scholarship came at the most appropriate time and has done tremendous things for me.”

For more information about Fostering Scholars and how you can make a difference, contact Susan Clifford Jamroski at (206) 296-1896, or e-mail: susancj@seattleu.edu.



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