Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.
May 1, 2013
By Tony Phifer
The program, established in 2010, helps former foster youth succeed in their goal of earning a CSU degree.
Spend two minutes with Colorado State University sophomore Kassandra Sedillo and you’ll walk away impressed.
She’s on a four-year, full-ride Daniels Fund scholarship following an outstanding academic career at Aurora’s Hinkley High School. She’s a double major in two challenging fields: chemistry and chemical engineering. She works, and she’s an active volunteer.
If you look a bit deeper, though, you’ll go from impressed to speechless. Sedillo, you see, was twice a foster child, including all of her sophomore year of high school. She’s been homeless. And she played the role of mom to her siblings before she was old enough to enter high school.
In other words, she had every opportunity to fail. But thanks to an iron resolve to succeed and help from CSU’s unique Fostering Success program she is thriving, despite very long odds.
“From a very young age I’ve had a desire to learn, and I always knew that I would attend college and find a way to succeed in life,” said Sedillo. “My experience at CSU has been amazing, and Fostering Success has been a big part of that. The program really gives you a sense of belonging, and they show us that we can succeed.”
Success is the biggest challenge facing former foster youth. Fewer than 3 percent nationally will graduate from college. Unlike the vast majority of students, they generally can’t lean on family for financial or emotional support, and they often have no place to spend holidays. Many don’t get birthday cards or the care packages many of their fellow students take for granted.
Fostering Success was established at CSU in 2010 as a way to fill those voids. At first, the program provided care packages to 13 of CSU’s independent students. Since then, the program has expanded to provide scholarship assistance, host dinners, sponsor events and offer numerous other services to more than 35 students.
“The big thing for me is the scholarship, because you don’t have money when you’re on your own,” said Jackie Colacino, who grew up in Fort Collins and first entered the foster care system at age 12. She graduated from CSU in 2012 with a degree in social work. “The care packages were a huge, wonderful thing to look forward to, and I loved the family dinners. There are just so many resources available through Fostering Success, and that really helped me.”
CSU has approximately 80 current or former foster youth on campus, and about 60 of them take advantage of the services offered by Fostering Success. Many former foster youth who have learned to be independent, are hesitant to get involved because of the negative stereotypes associated with coming from backgrounds where parents are not a positive part of their lives.
“The people in the program sent me a bunch of letters and packages trying to get me involved, and one day I just decided to go to one of the family dinners,” said senior Courtney Bernatis, who grew up in Mesa, Colo., in a difficult home environment. “I felt like I had moved on from that part of my life, and it took a while to get comfortable with coming out in public and talking about my experience.
“A lot of people have the perception that, if you’re a foster kid, you are a bad person or that you’re scarred for life, but the reality is that we’re normal people. Fostering Success allows us to have a normal college experience.”
Erin Pitts, who co-chairs Fostering Success as part of her job working in CSU’s Center for Advising and Student Achievement (CASA), said the program currently provides partial scholarship assistance for nine students. She would love to add more scholarship dollars and more programs to help these unique students succeed.
“We are so proud of the Fostering Success program,” she said. “The student leaders and staff volunteers have created an amazing community for independent youth here at CSU.”