Guardian Scholars graduates beat the odds
Celebrating their graduation on May 19 will be eleven former foster youth who have worked hard to beat the odds. Nationally, less than three percent of young people who grow up in foster care go on to graduate from college.
"This is our largest graduating class and it's very motivating for our younger students," said Xochitl Sanchez-Zarama, director and cofounder of the Guardian Scholars Program, which helps former foster youth earn degrees at SF State.
Graduating magna cum laude is Kayla Daniels who grew up in and out of foster care because both of her parents were drug users. She set her sights on college and came to SF State to study psychology with a minor in sexuality studies. She has worked with the campus' CEASE program to educate students about drug and alcohol use and has volunteered with EROS, a student organization that promotes healthy, safer sex. She plans to apply to graduate school, enabling her to become a sex education professional in public schools.
"I wouldn't have been successful without the Guardian Scholars Program," Daniels said. "They're like family to me."
Seeing the value of mentorship in her own life, Daniels is in the process of co-founding a new student organization that will connect Guardian Scholars with current foster youth and other at-risk young people, providing them with role models.
Joseph Good spent his teenage years in a group home in Fresno before enrolling at SF State.
"Coming to SF State was a growing experience for me," Good said. "I came here fresh out of high school in Fresno. Studying here made me see things differently and I've developed more of a sense of who I am."
Good majored in communication studies, joined the campus' cheer team and is now choosing between graduate studies in public relations or pre-med programs.
"I don't know if I would have stayed here without the Guardian Scholars Program," he said. "I always knew I had a confidant there. Plus I'm graduating debt-free because of the connections and scholarship opportunities they gave me."
The program takes care of some of the biggest concerns that students might have, such as providing year-round housing on campus and financial aid. But students say the small things matter, too, such as having priority registration for classes. The broad range of support offered contributes to the program's track record: Since accepting its first freshmen in 2005, 83 percent of students have successfully graduated.
Looking beyond graduation, the program recently added a new emphasis on career planning and is helping Guardian Scholars – from freshmen to seniors – find summer internships and jobs. This summer, students will intern at such workplaces as University of California, San Francisco and the pharmaceutical firm McKesson.
Graduating senior Arianna Blaisdell wants to find a job in public relations and has landed a summer internship at a sustainable travel company, where she will manage their PR.
Graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor's in communication studies, Blaisdell has excelled at SF State. She has designed and constructed costumes for campus musical productions and gained work experience as an intern at a PR firm that represents opera companies.
"I pushed myself and became an overachiever so I could get out of the cycle of hardship I saw in my family," said Blaisdell, who entered foster care after her mother, a drug addict, passed away.
There are currently 48 Guardian Scholars on campus and the program relies on donations to support these former foster youth. For more information about the Guardian Scholars Program, visit http://www.sfsu.edu/~eop/gs.html
Read previous stories about SF State Guardian Scholars at:
- Former foster youth step into the workplace to shadow mentors;
- Support an essential ingredient for graduation;
- First Guardian Scholar graduates;
- Guardian scholars featured on NBC Nightly News