NSHE Fostering Success Initiative

System-Level NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Contact Back to Top

Profile Image - Laura Obrist

Laura Obrist, MSW
Foster Youth Ambassador
Fostering Success Initiative
Chancellor’s Office, Department of Academic and Student Affairs
NEVADA SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION

Email Address: lobrist@nshe.nevada.edu
Direct Line (call or text): 702-522-7035

Laura, who serves all seven degree-granting NSHE institutions, is the NSHE System Administration (Chancellor’s Office) contact for the systemwide NSHE Fostering Success Initiative and NSHE Foster Youth Fee Waiver. Please direct any questions related to the initiative and/or the fee waiver policy/requirements to Laura.

The designated fee waiver contacts for each of the 7 degree-granting NSHE institutions are listed below and on the fee waiver form linked above. Additionally, the designated NSHE institution contacts for campus-based wraparound support are listed below, some of whom also serve as the fee waiver contact for their institution. These representatives and/or Laura can also connect students with the other NSHE institution-specific contacts who are assigned to support students who have experienced foster care with specialized needs.

Biography for Laura Obrist

Laura earned her Master of Social Work degree—with a concentration in administration and policy practice—from the University of Washington, in 2011. Laura then spent a little over six years working for nonprofits and a state university in the San Francisco Bay Area. There, she designed and implemented postsecondary education access and success programming for young people who have experienced foster care and/or homelessness, and provided direct services and advocacy support. Laura’s passion for this work stems from her personal experiences with the family court system and kinship care as a teenager, and the positive impact that supportive adults and higher education made on her life.

Laura relocated to Nevada in August 2018, intent on continuing to provide intensive wraparound support to current and future college students with educationally disadvantaged backgrounds and limited support systems. Laura worked at Nevada State College (NSC) for 11 months, where her desire to provide more comprehensive support to students who have experienced foster care and/or homelessness prompted her to seek out an active role with the NSC Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. Through the task force, Laura formed and chaired a subcommittee focused on serving those two overlapping student populations. That work then led Laura to her position with NSHE, which was created within a year of the Nevada Board of Regents approving the NSHE Foster Youth Fee Waiver policy. Laura describes this as her “dream job.”

In her spare time, Laura enjoys cooking, gardening, reading, and spending quality time with loved ones. Favorite activities with loved ones include playing board and card games, spending time in nature, sharing delicious food, and engaging in good conversation. Laura also serves as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in Clark County, a volunteer role supporting young people in foster care.

NSHE Foster Youth Fee Waiver Contacts Back to Top

System-Level NSHE Contact

Nevada System of Higher Education, System Administration (Chancellor’s Office)
Laura Obrist
(702) 522-7035
lobrist@nshe.nevada.edu

NSHE Institution Contacts
Logo - University of Nevada, Las Vegas

University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Heather Richardson
(702) 895-0638
heather.richardson@unlv.edu

Logo - University of Nevada, Reno

University of Nevada, Reno
Dr. James Beattie
(775) 682-8943
jbeattie@unr.edu

Logo - Nevada State College

Nevada State College
Rileigh K. Merritt-Dietz

(702) 992-2160
rileigh.merritt-dietz@nsc.edu

College of Southern Nevada
Andrew Reyes

(702) 651-5616
andrew.reyes@csn.edu

Logo - Great Basin College

Great Basin College
Brittney Maynard

(775) 753-2186
brittney.maynard@gbcnv.edu

Logo - Truckee Meadows Community College

Truckee Meadows Community College
Andy Hughes

(775) 673-7240
ahughes@tmcc.edu

Logo - Western Nevada College

Western Nevada College
Chelsie Hamtak
(775) 445-3288
chelsie.hamtak@wnc.edu

Nevada Child Welfare Agency Contacts

Clark County Department of Family Services
Shuuanndy Alvarez
(702) 455-5444
Isabel Iraheta
(702) 455-3712

DFSFeeWaiver@ClarkCountyNV.gov

The Clark County Department of Family Services provides foster care history documentation, for current and prospective NSHE students who were most recently in foster care in Clark County, Nevada.

Washoe County Human Services Agency
Valerie Welsh
(775) 303-7287
vwelsh@washoecounty.gov

The Washoe County Human Services Agency provides foster care history documentation, for current and prospective NSHE students who were most recently in foster care in Washoe County, Nevada.

Nevada Division of Child and Family Services
educationhelp@dcfs.nv.gov

The Nevada Division of Child and Family Services provides foster care history documentation, for current and prospective NSHE students who were most recently in foster care in Nevada, in any county aside from Clark County or Washoe County.

NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Campus-Based Wraparound Support Contacts Back to Top

System-Level NSHE Contact

Nevada System of Higher Education, System Administration (Chancellor’s Office)
Laura Obrist
(702) 522-7035
lobrist@nshe.nevada.edu

NSHE Institution Contacts
Logo - University of Nevada, Las Vegas

University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)
Heather Richardson
(702) 895-0638
heather.richardson@unlv.edu
UNLV Fostering Scholars Program

Logo - University of Nevada, Reno

University of Nevada, Reno (UNR)
Dr. James Beattie
(775) 682-8943
jbeattie@unr.edu
UNR Fostering the Pack

Logo - Nevada State College

Nevada State College (NSC)
Rileigh K. Merritt-Dietz

(702) 992-2160
rileigh.merritt-dietz@nsc.edu

College of Southern Nevada (CSN)
Rileigh K. Merritt-Dietz
(702) 651-7450
kimiko.walton@csn.edu

Logo - Great Basin College

Great Basin College (GBC)
Brittney Maynard

(775) 753-2186
brittney.maynard@gbcnv.edu

Logo - Truckee Meadows Community College

Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC)
Annalisa Walker
(775) 673-7060
awalker@tmcc.edu

Logo - Western Nevada College

Western Nevada College (UNC)
Denise Stout
(775) 445-3271
denise.stout@wnc.edu

NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Peer and Community Educators Back to Top

Current Peer and Community Educator

Toni Duncan
2022-23 Peer and Community Educator
Fostering Success Initiative
Chancellor’s Office – Department of Academic and Student Affairs
NEVADA SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION

Email Address: tduncan@nshe.nevada.edu

Biography for Toni Duncan

We are very excited to have Toni Duncan in the peer and community educator role, for the 2022-23 academic year. Toni is a full-time student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), with an anticipated graduation date of December 2023. She is majoring in criminal justice, with the goal of attending law school. Toni is the third student to hold the one-year peer and community educator position; and she is excited to be a part of the initiative. As a returning college student with experience in foster care who has attended two NSHE institutions (UNLV and the College of Southern Nevada), a parent to two children, and self-sufficiency advocate, Toni is very passionate about supporting her peers who have experienced foster care with their postsecondary education, parenting, and basic needs.

Toni has a passion for helping other young people who have experienced foster care and has been engaged in advocacy work on behalf of that population for nearly a decade. In high school, Toni participated in the Nevada LIFE (Leaders in Future Excellence) Youth Advisory Board (YAB), which is comprised of young leaders who have experienced foster care. Toni served as the president of Clark County’s YAB chapter—Foster And Adopted Youth Together (FAAYT)—for a year, and she later served as the statewide YAB president. Toni’s YAB officer roles gave her several great opportunities that she cherishes to this day. For example, in August 2014, Toni attended the National Pathways to Adulthood Convening in Philadelphia, PA, where she represented young people in the Nevada foster care system. Toni also represented young Nevadans in foster care during Children’s Week at the Nevada Legislature, in 2015, where she sat on the legislative floor with former Nevada Assembly member Tyrone Thompson and talked about foster care-related issues. Additionally, Toni spoke on behalf of the Nevada foster care population at the May 2015 First Lady’s Summit on Children’s Mental Health: Connecting the Community Dots, in Carson City, NV.

Currently, Toni is a participant in the UNLV Fostering Scholars Program, which provides wraparound support and community-building opportunities for UNLV students with experience in foster care. Through that program, Toni has been a leader in helping to educate the community—both on and off campus—about the unique challenges and needs of students who have spent time in foster care.

Toni has two wonderful kids who keep her busy and motivate her in everything she does. In her spare time, Toni enjoys painting, fishing, working on cars, sewing, and cooking.

Former Peer and Community Educators

Jesse Fager-Larsen
2021-22  Peer and Community Educator
Fostering Success Initiative
Chancellor’s Office – Department of Academic and Student Affairs
NEVADA SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION

Biography for Jesse Fager-Larsen

Jesse, a full-time student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), was the second NSHE student to hold the peer and community educator position. Jesse, who is majoring in psychology and minoring in political science, brought his passions for mental wellness, community engagement, and policy advocacy to the role. As wellness-minded college student who has experienced foster care, student government leader, and policy/law enthusiast, Jesse is passionate about advancing equitable education opportunities, wellness, and self-advocacy skills for his peers with experience in foster care.

Jesse has been engaged in foster care-focused advocacy work since high school. During his junior year of high school, Jesse served as the secretary for Clark County’s Foster And Adopted Youth Together (FAAYT) chapter of the Nevada LIFE (Leaders In Future Excellence) Youth Advisory Board (YAB), which is comprised of young people who have experienced foster care. Through that role, Jesse supported his peers in the Clark County foster care system with developing self-sufficiency and self-advocacy skills, as well as exploring future academic opportunities and engaging in community-building activities.

After transitioning to UNLV, Jesse continued his advocacy work on behalf of students who have experienced foster care. First, he served on the UNLV HOPE/Fostering Scholars Advisory Board during its first year. The advisory board is dedicated to providing technical assistance to the UNLV HOPE Scholars Program for students who have experienced homelessness, as well as the new UNLV Fostering Scholars Program (launched in Fall 2021) for students with experience in foster care (Jesse was one of the first participants in the Fostering Scholars Program). Jesse also helped kickstart UNLV’s chapter of Fostering Community, a new campus-based club for students who have experienced foster care. He previously served as the founding vice president of UNLV Fostering Community, currently serves as the civic engagement officer, and is supporting the club with gaining membership. Through his statewide peer and community educator position, Jesse also supported the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) with launching their own Fostering Community club chapter.

Building upon the foundational work of his 2020-21 predecessor (the amazing Autumn Robertson!) during his year in the peer and community educator role, Jesse helped NSHE expand the resources available through the systemwide initiative. Jesse will continue to be involved with the initiative throughout his college career, for which we are very thankful. We are also thrilled that Jesse will continue to engage with the National Foster Youth Institute’s policy education and advocacy work, as an extension of his participation in their 2022 Congressional Leadership Academy and Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day. Thank you, Jesse, for your continued service to the Nevada foster care community!

Autumn Robertson
2020-21 Peer and Community Educator
Fostering Success Initiative
Chancellor’s Office – Department of Academic and Student Affairs
NEVADA SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION

Biography for Autumn Robertson

Autumn, a full-time student at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and participant in the UNR Fostering the Pack program that serves students who have experienced foster care (launched in Spring 2022), was the very first NSHE student to hold the peer and community educator position. She helped to shape the position into what it is, and she set a high bar for what this student leadership role can achieve. Autumn, who is majoring in economics and minoring in sociology and statistics, brought her enthusiasm for financial literacy education and social justice to the role. As a service-minded college student with experience in foster care, education equity champion, and financial literacy advocate, Autumn is very passionate about supporting her peers who have experienced foster care with their postsecondary education and financial literacy goals.

Autumn is not only a dedicated student, but also a demonstrated leader in her community and an experienced advocate for students who have experienced foster care. In high school, Autumn served as an officer for Clark County’s Foster And Adopted Youth Together (FAAYT) chapter of the Nevada LIFE (Leaders In Future Excellence) Youth Advisory Board (YAB)—a role which led to her serving a one-year term as the statewide ambassador for the Nevada DHHS Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), during her senior year. Through that position, Autumn engaged in self-sufficiency, self-advocacy, and education support work on behalf of young people in foster care across the state. Among many other projects affiliated with that role, Autumn represented Nevada youth in foster care at the two-day Chafee Program Alliance Grantee Meeting in Washington D.C., in 2019, as one of 125 participants across 38 states and 1 tribal nation. Autumn also got involved with the NSHE Fostering Success Initiative through her DCFS ambassador position, in a variety of ways. Autumn participated in the very first statewide Fostering Success Initiative Retreat (2019)—as the sole high school student representative—along with NSHE students with experience in foster care, NSHE staff/faculty, and community partners. Autumn also attended the 2019 Los Angeles-based Blueprint for Success Conference—a nationally renowned conference focused on postsecondary education preparation, transition, and persistence support for students who have experienced foster care—alongside NSHE employees and community partners. Additionally, Autumn has served on the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Committee since it launched in early 2020.

When Autumn began the one-year peer and community educator position with NSHE, she said “it’s a great honor to be the first in this position and I hope to make it something great.” Well, she certainly made it something great! And, we are grateful for Autumn’s continued service to the Nevada foster care community since she completed her one-year term with NSHE, through her continued involvement with our initiative and through other foster care-focused roles within the community—including serving for a year in the Foster Care Liaison role for the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, a very close community partner in the initiative work.

Initiative Overview

Initiative Beginnings: NSHE Foster Youth Fee Waiver Approval and Grant Funding Support

In September 2018, the Nevada Board of Regents launched the systemwide Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Fostering Success Initiative (formerly known as the NSHE Foster Youth Success Initiative) when they unanimously approved the NSHE Foster Youth Fee Waiver—a course registration fee waiver permitting qualifying NSHE undergraduate students to register for classes without being charged course registration or certain laboratory fees—thereby increasing college access for specific students who have experienced foster care.

Shortly thereafter, NSHE applied for and received six years of private grant funding, totaling $1.2 million, from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation—a national foundation that funds projects focused on improving wellbeing, economic stability, and educational opportunity for young people with experience in foster care and other systems-involved youth.

A portion of the grant funding has been allocated toward the salary and fringe benefits for a system-level foster youth ambassador, hired to facilitate the successful implementation and coordination of the initiative—including its fundamental fee waiver component—across NSHE’s seven degree-granting institutions. The grant funding has also supported with other system-level initiative needs.

Our Vision

During the first annual initiative retreat, in September 2019, the initiative’s vision was collaboratively developed by the 38 stakeholders in attendance, including five students with lived experience in foster care. After a full day of collaborative brainstorming, the retreat participants came up with the following vision statement:

Our vision is to build a comprehensive, sustainable, and permanent education support system for Nevada students who have experienced foster care—from secondary education completion, to postsecondary education attainment, to a career path.

Several months later, the 2019 retreat participants became the core members of the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Support Network that the NSHE foster youth ambassador formally established in early 2020—a coordinated statewide network of NSHE student leaders with foster care history, child welfare professionals, K-12 educators and administrators, legal services providers, court representatives, workforce professionals, NSHE institution employees, and other stakeholders—some of whom are already well-versed in the unique challenges and needs of young people who have experienced foster care, and all of whom are committed to continually engaging in culturally humble, best practice-focused learning opportunities in order to effectively serve young people with experience in foster care with their postsecondary education-related challenges, needs, and long-term goals.

These core network members make up the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Committee. The committee meets quarterly, alternating between a statewide and regional format.

Our Mission

With the initiative’s vision consistently in mind, our mission is to more effectively recruit, support, and retain students who have experienced foster care; and the fee waiver is a key component in achieving that goal for qualifying students (you can learn more about the fee waiver eligibility requirements and benefits in this Who, What, When, Where, & Why Fact Sheet). However, the initiative serves any current or prospective NSHE student with experience in foster care—regardless of when or where they were in foster care, or their eligibility for the fee waiver or other financial aid. NSHE is dedicated to providing both financial and wraparound support, as we know that providing funding for students who have experienced foster care is just one crucial step in ensuring their college success.

NSHE Foster Youth Ambassador Role

Hired in July 2019, NSHE’s full-time, system-level foster youth ambassador is dedicated to achieving the initiative’s mission and ultimate vision, in collaboration with the statewide Nevada Fostering Higher Education Support Network.

In order to ensure that NSHE is working effectively with young people with experience in foster care, the ambassador frequently consults with student leaders with foster care history and other members of the network who have expertise in the unique challenges and needs of this underserved student population and/or expertise in various higher education topics. The ambassador serves as the primary point of contact for, and liaison between, all of the NSHE institutions and community partners. The ambassador also responds to inquiries from both prospective and current NSHE students who have experienced foster care, providing them with resources and directing them to campus-based staff/faculty who can further assist them with various needs.

Additionally, the ambassador leads the network—particularly the core members who make up the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Committee—in the development and implementation of effective postsecondary education planning, preparation, access, transition, and persistence practices. These practices are formulated to assist young people who have experienced trauma, educational instability, inadequate financial resources, and limited support systems; and the approach employed is twofold:

  1. Increasing financial aid access and utilization for all prospective and current NSHE students with experience in foster care—particularly in the form of the NSHE Foster Youth Fee Waiver (for eligible current and former dependents of the Nevada foster care system); federal, state, and institution-specific grants; and scholarships; AND
  2. Improving and expanding postsecondary education-specific wraparound support for Nevada students who have experienced foster care—including students in the college preparation and transition stages, as well as continuing college students.

As a system-level employee, the ambassador employs three core strategies in facilitating the statewide network and supporting its members with achieving success, each of which includes several key focus areas designed to increase postsecondary education attainment for young people with experience in foster care:

  1. Resourcing (building knowledge) – Creating and/or disseminating specialized resources, in collaboration with student leaders and experts in the field of higher education support for students with experience in foster care
  2. Networking (building social capital) – Facilitating consistent opportunities for the statewide network to connect with each other and other professionals throughout the country, in order to learn from each other, share ideas, and collaborate on projects designed to better support students who have experienced foster care
  3. Supporting (building skills) – Identifying and providing opportunities for perpetual, culturally humble engagement in best practice-focused learning/training pertaining to effective methods for supporting students with experience in foster care

These core strategies, informed by national best practices in supporting students who have experienced foster care with reaching their college goals, better equip the statewide network to achieve the initiative’s mission and ultimate vision.

In adopting best practices and strengthening resources and support services that are tailored to students with foster care history, NSHE seeks to:

  1. improve its own ability to effectively support young people who have experienced foster care with college planning, preparation, access, transition, and persistence activities
  2. expand the capacity of other systems serving this population to assist with college-focused activities
  3. build stronger career pathways for students with experience in foster care
Nevada Fostering Higher Education Support Network

Statewide network members, particularly the core members who make up the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Committee, engage in three key activities that align with the system-level core strategies and promote the success of our students who have experienced foster care:

  1. Individualized direct coaching that centers the young person as the expert in their own experiences and needs, builds trust, and fosters self-advocacy and independent living skills;
  2. Tailored campus- and community-based resource and/or support service provision; and
  3. Timely and appropriate advocacy that assists in removing barriers.

Initiative Growth Timeline Back to Top

2019

2019

NSHE Awarded 1st Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant: $200,000

In February 2019, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation awarded NSHE System Administration an initial one-year $200,000 grant, to hire a system-level employee (the NSHE foster youth ambassador) to facilitate the successful implementation and coordination of the initiative—including its fundamental fee waiver component—across NSHE’s seven degree-granting institutions, and to support with other system-level initiative needs.

NSHE Begins 1-Year Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant Cycle

NSHE System Administration began their 1-Year $200,000 Walter S. Johnson Foundation grant cycle on March 1, 2019. The grant funds were allocated toward the NSHE foster youth ambassador's salary and fringe benefits, as well as other system-level initiative needs.

System-Level Employee Hired

In July 2019, NSHE hired Foster Youth Ambassador Laura Obrist to facilitate the successful implementation and coordination of the initiative—including its fundamental fee waiver component—across NSHE's seven degree-granting institutions. This includes developing and implementing effective postsecondary education planning, preparation, access, transition, and persistence practices that are formulated to assist young people who have experienced trauma, educational instability, inadequate financial resources, and limited support systems.

Initiative Website and Twitter Account Launched

Shortly after beginning the role in mid-2019, the NSHE foster youth ambassador launched the initiative website to get the word out about activities and resources. The ambassador also launched a Twitter account for the systemwide initiative.

Fall 2019 Chancellor's Roundtable Discussions Held with NSHE Students Who Have Experienced Foster Care

In an effort to ensure that the system office was engaging, first-hand, with students who have experienced foster care, then-Chancellor Thom Reilly hosted two regional roundtable discussions during the Fall 2019 semester. From these discussions, 14 key recommendations addressing postsecondary education access/success barriers were identified for Nevada education and community providers. The student feedback from the roundtable discussions was then disseminated to the college/university presidents, in a memo, as well as used to inform the development of the initiative's strategic plan.

NSHE Hosts 1st Annual NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Retreat

The NSHE foster youth ambassador hosted the first annual NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Retreat in September 2019, during which 33 educators/providers and five students worked collaboratively to build a more cohesive statewide learning community focused on supporting students who have experienced foster care in accessing and thriving in college, including the development of the NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Strategic Plan.

NSHE Delegation Attends 2019 California College Pathways Blueprint for Success Conference

In October 2019, a delegation of NSHE employees, community partners, and one high school senior in foster care who was admitted to/preparing to enroll at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) attended the California College Pathways Blueprint for Success Conference—a nationally-renowned, biannual event focused on supporting students who have experienced foster care with postsecondary education enrollment and success.

TMCC Awarded 1st Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant: $30,000

In November 2019, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation awarded Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) an initial 18-month $30,000 grant, to improve housing stability and peer mentorship support for its students who have experienced foster care.

First Initiative Update Provided to the Nevada Board of Regents

In December 2019, the NSHE foster youth ambassador provided the Nevada Board of Regents with the first official update on the initiative's progress, including the initial NSHE Foster Youth Fee Waiver utilization numbers (for Fall 2018, Spring 2019, and Fall 2019).

2020

2020

TMCC Begins 18-Month Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant Cycle

Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) began their 18-Month $30,000 Walter S. Johnson Foundation grant cycle on January 1, 2022. TMCC utilized their funds to improve housing stability and peer mentorship for its students who have experienced foster care.

Nevada Fostering Higher Education Network and Nevada Fostering Higher Education Committee Established

The NSHE foster youth ambassador formally established the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Network in January 2020, which includes a core group of NSHE employees, students, and community partners that comprises the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Committee. The committee meets quarterly, alternating between a statewide and regional format.

Nevada Fostering Higher Education Financial Aid Toolkit Launched

The NSHE foster youth ambassador developed the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Financial Aid Toolkit in early 2020, which went live on the initiative website in May 2020.

NSHE Awarded 2nd Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant: $400,000

In February 2020, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation awarded NSHE a second grant—in the amount of $400,000 over two years—to sustain the NSHE foster youth ambassador position and provide for other system-level initiative needs.

UNLV Awarded Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant: $200,000

In February 2020, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation awarded the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) a $200,000 grant to launch a campus-based support program. Due to pandemic-related hiring delays, UNLV was granted an extension on their grant term and was able to hire a coordinator the following summer (in June 2021).

NSHE Begins 2-Year Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant Cycle

NSHE System Administration began their 2-Year $400,000 Walter S. Johnson Foundation grant cycle on July 1, 2020. The grant funds were, once again, allocated toward the NSHE foster youth ambassador’s salary and fringe benefits, as well as other system-level initiative needs.

Expert Panel Facilitated for UNLV: Best Practices in Providing Campus-Based Wraparound Support to Students Who Have Experienced Foster Care

In July 2020, the NSHE foster youth ambassador facilitated an expert panel on best practices in providing campus-based wraparound support to students with experience in foster care, for University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) staff/faculty. The panel featured a UNLV student with experience in foster care, a child welfare professional with the Clark County Department of Family Services, and four California-based students/professionals who have participated in and/or run campus-based support programs for this student population. Five out of six panelists had lived experience in foster care.

Standardized Foster Care History Question Implemented on All NSHE Applications for Admission

To accomplish the initiative's objective of providing students who have experienced foster care with the support needed to flourish, it is important to identify and serve any student in that category, regardless of fee waiver eligibility. This is critical for the purposes of accurately tracking key data, increasing fee waiver utilization, and connecting students to resources/services. To this end, the NSHE foster youth ambassador worked with institutional presidents and registrars during the first half of 2020 to add a standardized foster care identification question to all NSHE applications for admission. The question was fully implemented by all 7 degree-granting NSHE institutions in time for the Fall 2021 admission cycle. The ambassador continually works with the institutions to identify and serve these students through targeted outreach efforts.

Systemwide Peer and Community Educator Position Established

The NSHE foster youth ambassador established the systemwide peer and community educator position—a part-time student leadership role with the initiative—in mid-2020. The role has an intentional one-year term design. This is to allow multiple students to have the opportunity to hold the position, and to support students in moving onto other resume-building opportunities after one year of service. The initiative's first peer and community educator began the role in August 2020, for the 2020-21 academic year. In line with national best practices that reiterate the importance of youth-informed and/or youth-led work when serving young people with experience in foster care, this student leadership role is an initiative cornerstone.

COVID-19 Resources Allocated to NSHE Students With Experience in Foster Care

In Summer 2020, the NSHE foster youth ambassador secured one-time approval, due to the onset of COVID-19, to reallocate system-level grant funds directly to NSHE students with foster care history. NSHE also partnered with Together We Rise to secure and execute their own Walter S. Johnson Foundation grant, specifically serving Nevada students who have experienced foster care through their COVID-19 Rapid Response program. The partnership began in Fall 2020 and funding for unmet needs was disbursed through July 2021.

Initiative Instagram Account Launched

In Fall 2020, the NSHE foster youth ambassador and the 2020-21 peer and community educator launched an Instagram account for the initiative, expanding the online presence after establishing this website and Twitter account in mid-2019.

Quick-Reference Financial Aid Overview and Detailed FAFSA Completion Instructions for Students Who Have Experienced Foster Care Disseminated

In Fall 2020, the NSHE foster youth ambassador developed and widely disseminated a quick-reference financial aid overview and detailed FAFSA completion instructions for Nevada students with foster care history.

NSHE Hosts 2nd Annual NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Retreat

The NSHE foster youth ambassador hosted the second annual NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Retreat in November, during which the 56 participants heard feedback from students on the strategic plan progress and worked collaboratively to generate initiative goals for the next year.

2021

2021

UNLV Fostering Scholars Program Coordinator Hired & UNLV Fostering Scholars Program Established

In June 2021, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) hired Coordinator Heather Richardson to launch the UNLV Fostering Scholars Program, marking NSHE's second full-time position serving students who have experienced foster care, and first full-time campus-based position and support program dedicated to students with experience in foster care. Utilizing the $200,000 in funding support from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation that was secured in 2020, and an initial internal funding commitment of over $100,000, UNLV went through the hiring process for the Fostering Scholars Program coordinator position in Spring 2021, hired in Summer 2021, and began providing formalized wraparound support services for UNLV students with foster care history in Fall 2021. In addition to the coordinator role, the new program was supported by two UNLV Master of Social Work practicum students during its inaugural year (2021-22).

UNR Internally Funds a 2021-22 Graduate Assistant Serving First-Generation College Students, Including Students with Experience in Foster Care

In Fall 2021, the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) invested internal funds in a 2021-22 graduate assistant position dedicated to serving first-generation college students, including students with experience in foster care.

UNR Awarded Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant: $200,000

The University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) was invited to submit a Letter of Inquiry for a $200,000 grant through the Walter S. Johnson Foundation in Summer 2021, based on their targeted internal efforts to formalize and expand support for students with experience in foster care. They were then invited to submit a formal grant proposal to the Foundation, which was approved in November 2021.

TMCC Awarded 2nd Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant: $225,000

Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) was invited to apply for a three-year $225,000 Walter S. Johnson Foundation grant in November 2021, which was approved in December 2021.

NSHE Employees and Community Partners Participate in Specialized Training on Supporting College Students Who Have Experienced Foster Care

From April through July 2021, NSHE utilized some grant funds to pay for a specialized 16-week virtual Level I Fostering Success Coach Training. 18 NSHE employees and community partners successfully completed the training and thereby became Level 1 Certified Fostering Success Coaches. Since the initial group completed the Level I training, additional NSHE employees and community partners who have joined the initiative work have also successfully completed the training and become Level 1 Certified Fostering Success Coaches. This practice will persist as new people continue to join the work.

1st Biennial Fee Waiver Report Completed & Presented to the Nevada Board of Regents

The NSHE foster youth ambassador wrote the first biennial fee waiver report, with support from leadership in the NSHE Department of Academic and Student Affairs. The ambassador then presented the report to the Nevada Board of Regents, in September 2021—which outlines the total number of students who utilized the fee waiver and the total cost to the NSHE institutions during the 2018-19, 2019-20, and 2020-21 academic years, as well as the student completion measures that NSHE will track moving forward.

Systemwide Needs Survey Conducted Among NSHE Students Who Have Experienced Foster Care

The 2020-21 peer and community educator and the NSHE foster youth ambassador conducted a systemwide needs survey that NSHE students who have experienced foster care were invited to complete from December 2020 through June 2021. The survey collected information about key barriers that have negatively impacted students’ ability to persist in their college education, including core issues associated with the barriers and what would be helpful in addressing them. The survey results are continually used to guide the initiative's efforts.

2022

2022

UNR Begins 2-Year Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant Cycle

The University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) began their two-year $200,000 Walter S. Johnson Foundation grant cycle on January 1, 2022. UNR is utilizing their funds to establish Fostering the Pack — a formal, campus-based support program for students with experience in foster care, which launched in Spring 2022 and is housed within UNR's larger First in the Pack program for first-generation college students. Expanding upon UNR's previous work supporting students with foster care history, Fostering the Pack provides more intensive, customized wraparound support for its NSHE Foster Youth Fee Waiver recipients—through a dedicated graduate assistant who provides coaching services, resources, and opportunities to build a sense of belonging with other students who have experienced foster care and the larger campus community. The establishment of the graduate assistant role and the launch of Fostering the Pack mark NSHE's second campus-based position and support program dedicated to students with foster care history.

Additional Together We Rise Resources Allocated to NSHE Students With Experience in Foster Care

NSHE partnered with Together We Rise, for a second time, to provide supplemental funding support to Nevada students who have experienced foster care through the Together We Rise Rapid Response program. The program reserved $15,000 for the 2022 calendar year, funded by the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, for Nevada students with experience in foster care who are transitioning to or already enrolled in college. The funds are flexible and are available to cover expenses that cannot be covered by financial aid or other funding sources for which students may be eligible.

TMCC Begins 3-Year Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant Cycle

Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) began their three-year $225,000 Walter S. Johnson Foundation grant cycle on March 1, 2022. TMCC—the only NSHE institution with a formalized commitment to serving students who have experienced foster care that predates the launch of the systemwide initiative—is using its second Foundation grant to build upon its longstanding efforts to address resource gaps for students with foster care history, through formalized support mechanisms. Prior to the 2018 systemwide initiative launch, TMCC already had a part-time faculty mentor position and interdepartmental committee dedicated to students with experience in foster care. Then, with its first Foundation grant, TMCC implemented a pilot project focused on housing stability and peer mentor support. TMCC is using its new seed funding to launch a campus-based support program dedicated to students who have experienced foster care—similar to what the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) now offer.

NSHE Foster Youth Ambassador & UNLV Fostering Scholars Program Coordinator Begin Serving on Monthly Eighth Judicial District Court OPPLA Review Panel

In January 2022, the NSHE foster youth ambassador and University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) Fostering Scholars Program coordinator began serving on a newly created monthly Eighth Judicial District Court OPPLA (Other Planned Permanent Living Arrangement) Review Panel. The panel, which joins back-to-back permanency planning hearings for high schoolers in foster care on a designated day each month, is designed to improve the high school-to-college pipeline for Clark County youth in foster care who have an OPPLA permanency goal on file with the court and, by nature of that status, particularly limited support systems. At each panel session, the NSHE foster youth ambassador provides information about the initiative resources/services at the 7 degree-granting NSHE institutions, and the UNLV Fostering Scholars Program coordinator provides information about UNLV's campus-based support program, to the young people participating.

Joint Data Collection and Information Sharing Letter Completed, Signed by DCFS & NDE Leadership, and Disseminated

Over the course of a year, the NSHE foster youth ambassador worked with the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Committee's data subcommittee (both groups are led by the ambassador) to draft a joint data collection and information sharing letter, designed to inform the local child welfare and education agencies about education-focused federal and state laws, individual rights, and best practices pertaining to the unique circumstances and needs of young people with experience in foster care. The letter was finalized, signed by DCFS and NDE leadership, and disseminated to the local child welfare and education agencies in February 2022.

NSHE Awarded 3rd Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant: $600,000

In May 2022, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation awarded NSHE a third grant—in the amount of $600,000 over three years—to sustain the NSHE foster youth ambassador position and provide for other system-level initiative needs during a challenging budget period.

NSHE Foster Youth Fee Waiver Eligibility Expanded by the Nevada Board of Regents

In early 2022, the NSHE foster youth ambassador worked with leadership in the NSHE Department of Academic and Student Affairs to draft two proposed NSHE Foster Youth Fee Waiver policy revisions that would expand eligibility. At their June 2022 quarterly meeting, the Nevada Board of Regents unanimously approved both fee waiver policy revisions. The first revision standardized the eligibility requirements for Nevada's young people who have experienced foster care, regardless of the state from which they graduated high school, as long as they were under the care of a Nevada child welfare agency. The second revision lowered the age at which a student must have been in the custody of the Nevada foster care system—from 14+ to 13+ years old—opening up eligibility for students who exited foster care at age 13 (Board of Regents Handbook Revision, June 2022).

Sustainable Plan Created for Expanding NSHE’s Foster Youth Fee Waiver Data Collection and Biennial Report Development

In Summer 2022, the NSHE foster youth ambassador, in collaboration with NSHE's institutional research team, created a sustainable plan for expanding NSHE's data collection and biennial report development related to NSHE Foster Youth Fee Waiver a utilization and the persistence and graduation rates for fee waiver recipients

NSHE Begins 3-Year Walter S. Johnson Foundation Grant Cycle

NSHE System Administration began their three-Year $600,000 Walter S. Johnson Foundation grant cycle on July 1, 2022. NSHE is using its third Foundation grant to strengthen and expand the work achieved with its first two Foundation grants. This additional grant is providing the initiative with sustained stability during a challenging budget period; and it brings the higher education system to a total of $1,025,000 in additional Foundation grant funding in 2022, to help improve financial and wraparound support for students with experience in foster care—after the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) began their $200,000 grant cycle in January and Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) began their $225,000 grant cycle in March. With the $830,000 previously awarded to System Administration ($600,000), TMCC ($30,000), and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) ($200,000), this brings NSHE to a total of $1,855,000 in grant funding from the Foundation.

TMCC Fostering College Success Advocate Hired

In August 2022, TMCC hired part-time Fostering College Success Advocate Annalisa Walker, who is tasked with launching its new campus-based support program serving students who have experienced foster care, the Fostering College Success Program. The dedicated advocate position replaced the part-time faculty mentor role, which was designed as an additional assignment and therefore limited in capacity. The advocate hire marks NSHE's third campus-based position dedicated to students with foster care history; and the launch of the Fostering College Success Program will mark NSHE's third campus-based support program serving this student population.

Initiative Adopts a More Person-Centered Name and a New Logo

In September 2022, the systemwide initiative name was officially changed from NSHE Foster Youth Success Initiative to NSHE Fostering Success Initiative, to remove the label of “foster youth” and reflect a person-centered approach to supporting students who have experienced foster care. The 2021-22 and 2022-23 peer and community educators then created a logo concept that evolved into the new logo that now accompanies the new name.

The initiative has increasingly used person-centered language as it has evolved. For example, prior to the initiative name change, the NSHE foster youth ambassador revised the naming convention used for initiative-related materials and groups, such as the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Financial Aid Toolkit and the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Committee. The ambassador also asked the three NSHE institutions launching campus-based support programs (UNLV, UNR, and TMCC) to follow suit when naming their new programs serving students with foster care history; as a result, those institutions have named their programs as follows: UNLV Fostering Scholars Program, UNR Fostering the Pack, and TMCC Fostering College Success Program.

This naming convention is in line with developing national best practice trends—with similar initiatives that serve students with experience in foster care—that call for a deeper understanding of what young people endure in the foster care system, the grit that it takes to persevere over the many obstacles thrown their way because of that experience, and how labeling them according to the status of having been in the custody of a child welfare agency can do them harm and hinder their progress toward their goals. While students who grew up in foster care need dedicated resources to help make up for their limited support systems, inadequate financial resources, and repeated disruptions to their education paths, their experience in the foster care system does not and should not define them. Ensuring that caregivers, child welfare professionals, educators, and other providers understand that is important for the future of the child welfare and education systems, as well as community-based organizations that serve young people with foster care history.

Initiative Photo Gallery Back to Top

NSHE Chancellor Reilly and Foster Youth Ambassador Laura Obrist sit at a discussion table with foster youth representatives and supporters of the NSHE foster youth initiative
August 2019 Chancellor’s Roundtable Discussion with Southern Nevada-Based NSHE Students Who Have Experienced Foster Care
NSHE Chancellor Thom Reilly sits at the head of roundtable made up of students and NSHE's Foster Youth ambassadors.
August 2019 Chancellor’s Roundtable Discussion with Southern Nevada-Based NSHE Students Who Have Experienced Foster Care
NSHE Board of Regents Chair Geddes and Foster Youth Ambassador Laura Obrist join a group pose with foster youth representatives and supporters of the NSHE Foster Youth Initiative.
September 2019 Chancellor’s Roundtable Discussion with Northern Nevada-Based NSHE Students Who Have Experienced Foster Care
A large conference room with professionals seated at small group tables listen to a speaker leading a presentation
September 2019 NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Retreat, at Nevada State College (38 total participants throughout the day)
Five student panelists sit at the front of a conference room and field questions from the conference participants.
September 2019 NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Retreat (38 total participants throughout the day)
Foster Youth Ambassador Laura Obrist poses for a photo with other conference attendees before a banner that reads 'Blueprint for Success Conference'
October 2019 California College Pathways Blueprint for Success Conference, in Los Angeles
Foster Youth Ambassador Laura Obrist poses for a photo with other conference attendees inside a large conference hall.
October 2019 California College Pathways Blueprint for Success Conference, in Los Angeles
A diverse group of supporters of the Foster Youth Initiative pose for the camera inside a large banquet hall.
NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Supporters at the December 2019 Nevada Board of Regents Quarterly Meeting (prior to Public Comment testimonies)
A foster youth student stands at a podium to share her story to a large group within a banquet hall.
UNLV Foster Care Alumni Student Testimony at the December 2019 Nevada Board of Regents Quarterly Meeting
Senator Yvanna Cancela speaks passionately from a podium within a large banquet hall.
Former Senator Yvanna Cancela, testifying at the December 2019 Nevada Board of Regents Quarterly Meeting
A grid of videoconference windows, half of which show engaged listeners
November 2020 Virtual NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Retreat (56 total participants throughout the day)
A videoconference interface with FY peer educators in conversation with Laura Obrist
July 2021 NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Peer and Community Educator Transition Meeting
A videoconference interface showing a grid full of several participants.
November 2021 Virtual NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Retreat (44 total participants throughout the day)
Three foster youth peer educators pose together. The Las Vegas strip can be seen in the background.
August 2022 NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Peer and Community Educator Video Project Outing, on the UNLV Campus
A high angle shot of four members of the Fostering Success support team.
August 2022 NSHE Fostering Success Initiative Peer and Community Educator Video Project Wrap Up, at NSHE System Administration, Las Vegas
NSHE Chancellor Reilly and Foster Youth Ambassador Laura Obrist sit at a discussion table with foster youth representatives and supporters of the NSHE foster youth initiative
Menu