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Youths in foster care empowered for academic success through ASU’s First Star Academy

Five people sitting at a table having a discussion.

(Left to right) Ethan Young, Parker Lopez, Paloma Delgado, Dreion and Peter Samuelson participate in a panel at the First Star — Arizona State University Academy showcase on June 21. Photo courtesy Ashish Rajapuram

July 05, 2023

It wasn't often that Ethan Young talked about his experiences in the foster care system. However, as an alum of First Star — Arizona State University Academy, Young was recently able to share his passion and gratitude for the program in front of a packed room.

"It's not just about the academics and workshops; it's about the connections and the support you receive," Young said.

First Star is a comprehensive four-year college access program that aims to empower foster youths by equipping them with the necessary academic support, enrichment and resources to successfully enroll and thrive in college.

He recently shared his gratitude for the transformational impact the program has had on his life during Access ASU’s community event highlighting First Star. More than 80 students and community supporters gathered on June 21 at the ASU Media and Immersive eXperience (MIX) Center in Mesa. Young and fellow First Star alumni Parker Lopez shared their experiences with the program.

“I want to give a special shout-out to Paloma (Delgado, program manager with First Star) who played a significant role in shaping my path,” Young said. “Without her, I wouldn't be studying engineering today. Preparing for college is very stressful, but Paloma was there for me every step of the way. Her belief in my abilities gave me the strength to overcome obstacles and pursue my dreams, and I can't thank her enough for that,” Young added.

Young also emphasized that the program not only provided academic support but also fostered lasting friendships and a sense of belonging. For Young and many other First Star alumni, the program's impact extended far beyond academics.

As an introverted high school student, Young said he initially felt apprehensive, but he quickly found solace within the inclusive and welcoming environment of First Star. Young said the program helped him break out of his shell, embrace his true self, and experience the power of a supportive community that accepts individuals for who they are.

Creating pathways for foster youths

Since its establishment in May 2017 as an initiative of Access ASU, First Star has served more than 170 caregivers and scholars, with 15 of them successfully matriculating to post-secondary education during that period. It is the sole program in the state that offers long-term academic support, life skills coaching and caregiver engagement starting in the early years of high school.

A highlight of the event was the presentation of the award-winning film "Foster Boy," in which First Star scholars from programs across the U.S. served as “consultants” who shared insights regarding character development, tone and the overall portrayal of the foster care system. The Sidney Poitier New American Film School was a fantastic venue for the presentation of the film, which offered profound insights into the foster care sector and provided community supporters with a thought-provoking experience.

"The event aimed to raise awareness of the First Star Academy initiative while also aiming to connect with and potentially acquire new partnerships among those stakeholders at the event who have and are working with foster care organizations, child welfare agencies and group home facilities to strengthen our recruitment efforts year-round," said Roger Fisher, Pathways director with Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU.

Designed to address the needs of students in grades 9–12, First Star is committed to supporting their educational aspirations through strategic K–12 education, multilevel support and community partnerships, ultimately increasing college-going rates for Arizona's youths in foster care and facilitating their success in the workforce.

"ASU's investment and advancement of the First Star program is significant because it gives high schoolers in foster care a chance to work towards their dreams consistently, uninterrupted, so that they can renew their goals, build the career and life they have always desired at no cost or worry to them," Fisher said.

The university values First Star's work in uplifting communities and creating change by establishing robust pathways toward post-secondary education and successful adult lives, as Lopez shared in his remarks.

“I created relationships that extended beyond the program with other scholars and youth coaches and found motivation to work on continuing school,” said Lopez, who joined the program in summer 2018.

Giving back to the program

Now a sophomore at ASU studying creative writing, Lopez said he wanted to share his story as an opportunity to help others learn about the resources and support that are available through First Star.

“By the time I graduated from high school in 2022, I was able to have my final goodbye as a scholar and later join back as a youth coach,” Lopez said. “I was met with the same familiarity and excitement of that very first summer.”

Fisher said the event proved to be an evening of inspiration, with attendees gaining valuable perspectives from both the film screening and First Star alumni. Access ASU aspires to continue organizing such events to inspire others and help build future partnerships, ultimately fueling the growth and impact of the First Star program.

“We believe that by learning more about the work that each organization does to support youth in foster care, we will find common priorities and a shared mission,” Fisher said. “This will lead to First Star becoming a go-to initiative for these organizations to send their students through our program.”

Fisher highlighted the collaborative efforts between First Star and ASU, saying that they are working together to build a pipeline that supports Arizona youth in foster care.

“This initiative aligns with the university's commitment to inclusion and the overall health of communities,” Fisher added.

For Lopez, serving as a youth coach now is a way to give back to the organization that supported him when he needed it the most.

“I came back to the people who helped me when I felt like I didn't have anyone; I came back to my chosen family.”

First Star Academy at ASU is now accepting applications; to learn more contact contact Christina Avila at