It’s halfway through the fall semester, and the University of Southern California campus is a whir of activity. Students bike, walk and skate their way to classes along sidewalks littered with fallen leaves. Down the street, dozens of officials focused on post-secondary education for foster youth are convening for the 2013 Blueprint for Success Conference hosted by California College Pathways.
It’s business-as-usual for most students, but for the first time in its 133-year history, USC is offering support services specifically for the current and former foster youth who study there.
The new program is called Trojan Guardian Scholars (TGS). As its executive committee meets this week for the first time since the semester began, new research has just been released that shows that foster youth in Guardian Scholars Programs are three times more likely to persist in college than other foster youth nationwide.
TGS officially launched in August of 2013, and it provides referrals, academic support, financial aid assistance and more to current and former foster youth at USC.
“It makes me so happy that this program is here now, because it’s hard to be a foster youth and a college student, and I struggled so I have nothing but positive things to say about Trojan Guardian Scholars,” said Jasmine Torres, USC senior and the TGS student liaison.
The idea for TGS first emerged four years ago when Wendy Smith and Jacquelyn McCroskey, both professors at USC’s School of Social Work, realized that USC had no program to assist the youths with whom they were training professionals to work.
“It can be intimidating to think about coming to USC, but hopefully this will lessen that for foster youth,” said Smith in an interview.
Dr. George Sanchez, USC’s vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives, agreed to help the professors launch the program.
“We met with Dr. Sanchez and he kind of took it on. I almost cried in that meeting,” Smith said. “He said you can go one of two ways, you can try to build the pieces out, or you can just start. He was willing to say okay, we’re just going to launch it this fall.”
“These youth have fought hard to get to college, and they tend to seize opportunities more than other people so they have the potential to soar to incredible heights, ” said Sanchez. “We want to make sure current and former foster youth who come to USC know about the resources available to them.”
“My job here is to ensure diversity and to help students take advantage of what USC has to offer,” continued Sanchez. “My experience with all kinds of students is that a lot can interfere with that, so my job is to clear the path.”
The original Guardian Scholars was founded by Ron Davis at Cal State-Fullerton in 1998. There are 112 community colleges with Foster Youth Success Initiative Liaisons, and scores of colleges in California and states throughout the country that offer Guardian Scholars type programs.
Research collected by California College Pathways in 2012 showed that from 1998 – 2012 a total of 2,500 foster youth participated in Guardian Scholars programs in California.
Sanchez said he expects the USC program to provide more career counseling than other iterations of Guardian Scholars.
“We’re a little different in that we’ve identified other needs these youth have at USC related to their career paths that we will need to solve, such as how to get through unpaid internships and how to study abroad,” said Sanchez. “We want to make sure current and former foster youth who come to USC can take advantage of every opportunity while they’re here, just like other USC students.”
Sanchez also said he looks forward to developing relationships with other Guardian Scholars programs around the state.
“It’s not only about support but empowerment. It’s about skills. I know how to ask for help, how to know when I’m too stressed out, how to do a budget. I want it to be holistic for all the students involved,” said Torres.
“My vision is for these students to come together, support each other and become even stronger, ultimately welcoming new TGS students and becoming models for others,” said Sanchez. “TGS students can show foster youth who are thinking about coming to USC that they can thrive here.”