Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Arizona’s governor and key public figures joined Grand Canyon University leaders on Thursday to address a large crowd at the GCU Student Union. The cheerleaders yelled and the band tooted.
But it wasn’t until Jacqueline Carter spoke that the assembled rose for an ovation.
Carter told of coming to GCU from foster care and finding a family on campus that helped her graduate with a degree and change her life.
Now, more Arizona children in foster care can follow in her footsteps. GCU announced its new Fostering Futures Scholarships, a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Arizona Department of Child Safety.
Carter said it’s hard for children aging out of foster care to attend college. They don’t have the support and guidance of other students, and fewer than 10% attain a four-year degree.
“My first day at GCU, my foster mom dropped me off and left. It was hard watching the other students with their families – watching them laugh, watching them cry. They are so happy their baby went to college. That hurt. I didn’t have that experience,” she said.
“Not having the normal college experience was hard to overcome. But eventually I found my own community here at GCU.
“This school became my home, especially during school breaks when I didn’t have a place to call home,” she continued, her voice choked with emotion. “I celebrated Christmases here. I celebrated Thanksgivings here with my friends. This campus is where I found God. And I know it sounds corny, but yes, I found my purpose here.”
She wants to tell others they can have that support with a scholarship program that will cover 100% of tuition, fees, and year-round room and board to Arizona’s foster youth who attend GCU. The first scholarships will be awarded for the 2022-23 academic year.
“I’m so excited to introduce this opportunity to more foster youth in need of quality education,” Carter said.
President Brian Mueller said investment in education is critical in the quest to tackle generational poverty, which the University also has done with 545 Students Inspiring Students scholarships to neighborhood youth.
“What happens is they step into a middle-class career and bring their families along with them,” he said. “Those who have faced difficult times in their lives, those are the ones we should be focusing on. They can forever change the trajectory of their family.”
Fostering Futures Scholarships is another important step in that effort. It is designed to help some of the 800 students who age out of foster care in Arizona every year.
“When they graduate they will graduate with absolutely no loans, and they will graduate in very important areas like nursing and education and engineering and computer science and information technology, and they will make a major contribution to the state of Arizona’s economy,” Mueller said.
The scholarship also will provide free tutoring, optional mentorship, jobs and life skills training in a program funded by GCU, federal grants and state funds from the Arizona Department of Child Safety.
Months in the works, the announcement created emotion in the Student Union.
“I’ve been in press conferences a lot, but hardly ever have I seen people crying. This is a heartfelt, unifying effort,” GCU Vice President of Operations Sarah Boeder said afterward. “There are a lot of people who want to do things, but it can be disjointed. What this does is bring a lot of those parties together and unify so action can happen.”
She said GCU has students from the foster care system who already attend GCU. Her research for the new scholarship indicated that GCU’s sense of community helped them overcome challenges.
Gov. Doug Ducey said that is the value of the state’s partnership with GCU. The scholarship doesn’t just provide an education and a roof over their heads.
“On top of all of this, they will have the benefit of going to this incredible faith-based university,” he said. “These scholars will have access to active, vibrant college life in a supportive environment that embraces faith.
“This will be game-changing for these kids. I’m confident that this public-private partnership that made this happen can become a model that can be replicated across the country.”
He also said it was important to his wife, Angela Ducey, who attended the announcement, and said afterward that helping foster children has become one of her missions.
“You know, I have a son that just graduated from college and one going in next year, and I think about trying to navigate that system alone," she said. "It would be daunting, even if you grew up in a supportive household with two parents. So I think with this program and all the support with that faith and family environment here is so unique.”
Faith also was central to the comments by Michael Faust, Director of the Department of Child Safety.
He said God has provided the resources, and GCU is adept at connecting those resources to people in need. Students from foster care need shelter, education for a career and loving relationships.
“The amazing thing about this scholarship program is it does all three. It gives them a place to lay their head, gives them a skill to differentiate them from their peers and gives them a supportive Christian environment where they can thrive.”
He ran across a biblical passage when researching the program that stuck with him. It said there would be days of doubt but “look back to the promise of God, look around at His faithful provisions and look forward to them being used by God for big things.”
Carter is one of those big things.
Today, she works for Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation and helps children age 16 to 21 in foster care. The prime need is for education because she said many aren’t graduating from high school.
“We know how important it is for your career and your life,” she said.
The year before Carter came to GCU, she was placed in foster care. She said she might have ended up on the streets, but GCU and the Department of Child Safety worked with her to attend college.
The community on campus inspired her to help others.
“When you are going through hard situations, GCU helped me focus on school. And whenever my mind started to wander, there was something going on around campus,” she said. “It was a place to live, it was food. This was my home. This was my address. This is where I live. There is no other place. So GCU was more than just a school.”
It was hard at first, seeing how other students who grew up with resources could navigate this new life when she felt a little lost.
“But my sophomore year I found reliable friends, and I started embracing God and what GCU has to offer,” she said.
Carter stayed up until nearly midnight to craft her short speech to advocate for others to get the same chance, and the crowd responded.
“I was glad I could shine the light on a goal of getting these kids a college education,” she said. “I’m excited to see what the future holds for a lot of foster youth.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
To learn more about the eligibility and programs, which can begin with tutoring before graduating from high school, email [email protected]