Paying for a college education can involve a lot of sacrifice for students and parents. But for students who have to tackle the college dream on their own, it means beating extremely tough odds.
Kenya Adeola is determined to be one of them. Despite nine different foster homes, and five different high schools, she is a very proud student of Florida International University. Adeola's journey hasn't been easy. She said after years of physical abuse at the hands of her crack-addicted mother, she had to get her and her little brother help because she feared for their lives.
“If I don’t make a future for myself no one will--everyone is depending on me. My younger brother looks up to me so I have to set an example. I have to be the change I want to see," said Adeola.
The FIU senior is working on her bachelor’s degree studying Spanish and pre-med. She’s a leader on campus and earns good grades, but there have been moments of self-doubt.
“There have been many times where I said maybe this isn’t for me,” Adeola said.
But Ana Ramos is making Adeola's journey through university-life a bit easier. Ramos is part of the Fostering Panther Pride program which is aimed at helping students who are trying to get a degree and have aged out of the foster system or who are homeless.
Ramos is leading that effort as a success coach. Ramos is a full-time mentor, and students participating in the program say Ramos is making a difference.
”She always calls me. She always makes sure that I’m okay," said Kevin Love, an FIU engineering student.
The lack of structure and stability growing up is just one of many obstacles for students like him.
"My entire immediate family is incarcerated from my mom, my sister and my two brothers. So not having that family support has been very difficult for me," said Love.
"They’re not prepared to be self-sufficient in life because they haven’t had the support they’re supposed to have from their families," said Ramos.
"The national numbers are not good. They're really tragic—that you have less than 10 percent of kids in foster care go into college and fewer than 2 to 3 percent graduating. That is unacceptable," said FIU president Mark Rosenberg.
Ramos helps by connecting students to resources--from tutors to financial assistance. Children who age out of the foster care system see their tuition waved, but Rosenberg says that’s not enough.
"Foster kids have to cover everything. They have to cover their housing…they have to have computers. They have to have on-line capability,” Rosenberg said. “There’s a lot of support that goes into college success that we really take for granted.”
Rosenberg says he hopes the increased resources will make an impact for these students at his school.
“Our message is we have high expectations of you regardless of your situation and we’re going to try to find a way to make you successful," said Rosenberg.
Through the fostering Panther Pride program, Ramos has become a role model, cheerleader and friend.
"She will not only be a support system in your life and a backbone but she will make sure you get through college—and if you don’t have goals she will make sure you create some," said Love.
For Love and Adeola the goals are almost reality—graduation day is quickly approaching.
"It's going to be a defining moment of you can do it. No matter what you go through. No matter the adversity. No matter the trials you can do it," said Love.
There are currently 80 students in the Fostering Panther Pride program. School officials hope more students who need the help will have the courage to ask for it.