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Conference furthers mission of long-term investments in foster care youth

Group of people pose for a photo on the front steps of a large, old brick building.

Attendees of the First Star National Conference at ASU pose for a photo on the steps of Old Main at the Tempe campus. Photo by Kaitlyn Beickel

November 06, 2023

When it comes to access to education and quality of life, the stakes are high. Take it from Samuel Brown, an ASU undergraduate and former foster kid who didn’t think college was a possibility until he learned about the First Star Arizona State University Academy.

“I can confidently say that this program has positively influenced and changed my life, because without First Star, I wouldn’t have spoken nationally in front of thousands of people, I would have never graduated high school, I might not even be alive,” Brown said.

First Star is a national public charity committed to giving high school students in foster care the opportunity, tools and support to successfully transition to higher education. ASU has been a partner of the organization since 2017, and this year, First Star leadership chose to gather for their annual conference at ASU’s Tempe campus.

“The purpose and the theme of our conference is: We are First Star; we are the power of connection," said Lyndsey C. Wilson, CEO of First Star.

Since 2011, First Star support programs have been launching foster children into productive lives and careers through access to higher education. One such program is First Star Academies. The First Star ASU Academy is one of 14 similar programs around the nation that provide free, comprehensive four-year college access and engage high school students in a variety of learning opportunities, including earning college credit for academic coursework, independent study and a two-week residential summer experience.

“ASU has put its arm around these kids,” said Peter Samuelson, founder of First Star. “This is a place to belong; this is a place that expects you to succeed; this is a place full of role models.”

During their time with the First Star ASU Academy, foster care students are not only provided with the resources needed to enroll and succeed in college, but they are also able to participate in cultural and social activities, such as field trips, recreational events, service learning and caregiver workshops, which provide academic support and enrichment.

“It's not as simple as saying, ‘Oh we'll give you a scholarship to go to college,’” Samuelson said. “You have to get them ready. They need study skills, they need life skills, they need support, they need a wrap-around holistic approach. And that is what First Star is.”

Samuelson added that the organization’s most recent national stat on conversion of high school students to college undergraduates is 87%.

At this year's First Star conference, leaders focused on the power of connection.

“At a moment in time where folks feel like they are disconnected and not feeling part of particular communities," Wilson said, "this is an opportunity to bring the entire community together to remind us that our north star is to support young people in care — while supporting each other as professionals — to continue to understand the skills and the knowledge that's necessary to really be strong but compassionate leaders for our academies, for our students and for our programs.”

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