Nyeelah Inniss had a clear goal to attend college after graduating from high school, but as a teenager in foster care, she did not understand the full extent of the college application process.
“I knew I wanted to attend college, but in foster care, almost everything is done or decided for you, so I assumed that my case worker would tell me what to do and when I needed to do it, which was not the case,” Innis said.
College Bound program
That all changed in 2012 when she attended College Bound, a summer program at the University of Georgia’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, designed to expose high school students in foster care to the college experience. The program is one of four in Georgia and three more in other states that are funded by the nsoro Educational Foundation, which helps provide post-secondary education to youth in foster care.
“The College Bound program exposed me to the entire college process and made me stop and think about the steps I needed to take to attend college,” Inniss said. “It gave me the skills, knowledge and direction to advocate for my educational needs and make college a reality.”
Through College Bound, the teenagers are able to envision themselves in college, said David Meyers, a Fanning faculty member and College Bound coordinator.
“Circumstances can prevent youth in foster care from gaining access to the same tools and resources that other youth have for college preparation,” Meyers said. “College Bound, through exposure to the college experience, mentoring and other skills for success, breaks down those barriers to show the youth that a path exists to achieve their dreams.”
During the program, participants spend five days on the UGA campus. Fanning Institute faculty members teach the teenagers about team building, financial literacy and leadership skills that can better prepare them for success in college and beyond. The youths also learn about college admissions and financial aid, visit campus facilities, meet with faculty, live in the residence halls and interact with college students who serve as mentors.
Coming back to mentor
Inniss graduated from Valdosta State University this year with bachelors’ degrees in sociology and anthropology. She returned to Athens this summer as a College Bound mentor because she remembers how important mentors were to her when she was in the program.
“I felt like I could relate and look up to them because they were college students,” she said, adding that she remains in contact with some of her mentors.
“It’s important to me that other youth in foster care receive the same tools I did through College Bound. I want to help show them that they can pursue higher education if they want to and create better outcomes for themselves through education.”
One of this year’s attendees, a high school senior from South Georgia, said the program has helped him believe he can go to college and pursue a career in sports medicine.
“It made me realize that no matter what life throws at you, you have to push it off and keep fighting,” he said. “College Bound has given me the skills and ability to continue to pursue my dreams.”
More than 160 youths have completed the UGA College Bound program since it began in 2011. The program is open to high school youths from across the state.