July 27, 2023

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

New VSU Initiative Helps Youth in Foster Care Prepare for Future Success

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University recently welcomed a special group of high school students to campus for three days of activities, conversations, and tours designed to introduce them to the collegiate experience.

Dr. Brian Gerber, director of VSU’s STEAM Center for Applied Creativity and Innovation, said that 16 youth currently living in foster care participated in the inaugural Fired Up Pre-Collegiate Summer Program, which was funded by a $55,616 grant from the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia’s GEAR UP Georgia project. The summer program is part of ongoing efforts to support the development of youth in the foster care system across the university’s 41-county service area. This includes workshops and other events designed to support the youth — and their caregivers — throughout the academic year as they work towards completing their high school education and planning their next steps after graduation.

GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program, is a Georgia initiative focused on helping targeted students graduate from high school and enjoy a successful post-secondary education experience.

VSU’s STEAM Center for Applied Creativity and Innovation partnered with Enay Coaching LLC to develop the inaugural Fired Up Pre-Collegiate Summer Program agenda, which included team-building activities, an inside look at the college admissions process, a motivational speaker, discussions about financial and other support resources available for youth in foster care, and more. Participating youth also had an opportunity to engage with VSU faculty and students and learn more about Blazer Nation’s culture of academic, creative, leadership, research, and service excellence.

“When youth land in foster care, it is, too often, a very rocky and traumatic transition, and neither their post-secondary educational readiness, independent living skills, nor employability condition usually improve enough to help them thrive after care,” Gerber shared. “The overall statistics for youth who age out of foster care are grim, but we know that the right types of interventions, such as proper academic support, immersive exposure to post-secondary opportunities, and financial support in the right doses, can invert those statistics.

“VSU’s Fired Up Pre-Collegiate Summer Program is an excellent immersive experience that helps remove the intimidation of the college setting and clearly illustrates pathways to post-secondary opportunities that best fit the student. It also connects the students’ caregivers with information and support to sustain the lessons learned from the experience.”

Gerber said that VSU has already been awarded $60,000 in funding from the Georgia Department of Education’s Building Opportunities in Out-of-School Time (BOOST) grant to continue offering the Fired Up Pre-Collegiate Summer Program during the 2023-2024 academic year, with another $60,000 on the horizon for 2024-2025.   

“The Enay Coaching LLC team designed this program with follow-up and future growth in mind,” Gerber said. “Following this year’s program delivery, all students and their caregivers were invited to register for ongoing programs and workshops to help them support and sustain the students’ preparation for post-secondary endeavors. Based on the positive feedback from this first-ever offering at VSU, we expect to scale the program to include more students, more activities on and off campus, and more program days.”

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