​​​"During my preschool and elementary school years, I remember school being such a positive experience, as I was able to be around other children. (I am an only child.) I loved to learn, and I thoroughly enjoyed athletics and all sports.

These memories became less joyous, as my father had a heart condition, which took his life when I was 10 years old. After my father's death, my mother's gambling addiction got the best of her and eventually the best of me, too, especially in the area of education.

I have early memories of being in both non-secure and secure detention facilities that were mixed with foster youth and juvenile delinquents. These placements were followed by numerous foster homes and eventually a residential treatment center that was three hours from where I grew up in upstate New York.

What was clear from all of this moving around — sometimes a placement could last less than a week —was that my education wasn't seen as a priority; if I wanted a day off of school, all I needed to do was to 'negatively act out' and I would be transported to a form of solitary confinement. By the time I was 16, I had dropped out of high school and was on my way to being another at-risk youth statistic.

But my life changed after I passed my GED at age 18 and the woman who called to tell me this information changed my life. 'With those test scores, you should think about community college,' she said.

After years of low-skilled jobs in the service industry and becoming a teen parent, I decided to begin my academic career at Monroe Community College at age 23 in the human services program. I then completed my bachelor's degree in social work at SUNY Brockport and my master's of social work degree at San José State University.

After many years of working for Santa Clara County in the area of child welfare with youth aging out of foster care, I realized that the education and employment skills programs for these youths had not changed since my time in care. Many youths from my caseload had also dropped out of high school, were teen parents, and lacked employment skills.

This led me to pursue my doctoral studies at UC Berkeley in social welfare. This part of the journey took seven years, and my focus remains even today on foster youth in the areas of education, employment, and physical and mental health.

After graduating with my Ph.D., I took a position at another large public university in upstate New York. I happily returned to California in 2013 and joined the faculty at CSU East Bay in the Department of Social Work.

My journey has allowed me to always remain in public education institutions and my dream continues.

This dream surrounds diversity and working with and for students — many of whom are first-generation college students like myself — to gain the education that has changed my life so far from a pathway to prison to a trajectory of working as a college professor who specializes in children, youth, and families and building hopeful futures for all youth."

For information about the CSU's programs supporting former foster youth, visit Foster Youth Programs.