NSHE Foster Youth Success Initiative

An audience of CSN graduates in blue caps and gowns

Foster Youth Ambassador Back to Top

Profile Image - Laura Obrist

Laura Obrist, MSW
Foster Youth Ambassador
Chancellor’s Office
NEVADA SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION

4300 South Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89119
Email Address: lobrist@nshe.nevada.edu
Direct Line: 702-522-7035

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—in San Francisco—designing and implementing postsecondary education access and success programming for current and former foster youth and young people experiencing homelessness/housing insecurity, as well as providing direct services and engaging in multiple forms of advocacy on their behalf. Laura worked in a variety of nonprofit and postsecondary education institution settings throughout her time in the Bay Area, before relocating to Las Vegas in August 2018.

In preparation for her relocation to Nevada, Laura sought out job opportunities that would allow her to continue pursuing her passion for providing intensive wraparound support to current and future college students with limited support systems and/or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. At that time, there were limited job openings focused on that specific area of postsecondary education assistance services; so, Laura sought out a position at Nevada State College (NSC), a 4-year institution where the majority of the students are from culturally diverse backgrounds and/or of the first generation in their families to attend college. At NSC, Laura advised students pursuing degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. While there, her desire to provide more comprehensive support to educationally disadvantaged students prompted her to seek out an active role with the NSC Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, through which she formed and chaired a subcommittee focused on serving students who are at risk of homelessness and/or current or former foster youth. That work then led her to the Foster Youth Ambassador role with NSHE, which Laura describes as her “dream job.”

In her spare time, Laura enjoys cooking, gardening, 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.

Foster Youth Success Initiative Peer & Community Educator Back to Top

Jesse Fager-Larsen
2021-2022 Foster Youth Success Initiative Peer & Community Educator
Chancellor’s Office
NEVADA SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION

Email Address: jfager-larsen@nshe.nevada.edu

Jesse is a sophomore at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), majoring in psychology. His future academic aspirations include the possibility of attending law school and/or earning a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Jesse’s primary interests in the law and psychology fields include criminal law and psychopathology. While school comes first for Jesse, he is also an established leader in his community and an experienced advocate for children and young adults who have experienced foster care.

During his junior year of high school, Jesse served as the Secretary for the Clark County Department of Family Service’s Foster And Adopted Youth Together (FAAYT) chapter of the Nevada Life Youth Advisory Board, 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. In his senior year of high school, Jesse served as Mock Trial President and was a member of the National Honor Society.

After transitioning to UNLV, Jesse continued his advocacy work on behalf of students who have experienced foster care. He has served on the UNLV HOPE/Fostering Scholars Advisory Board since its inception, in August 2020. 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 (Fall 2021 launch) for students who have experienced foster care. Jesse also helped kickstart UNLV’s chapter of Fostering Community, a new campus-based club for students who have experienced foster care. He currently serves as the founding Vice President of UNLV Fostering Community and is supporting the club with gaining membership. Through his statewide Peer and Community Educator position, Jesse is also supporting other NSHE institutions with launching their own Fostering Community club chapters.

Aside from his foster care-focused advocacy work, Jesse actively engages with his community in a number of other ways. For the Summer 2021 term, Jesse was selected for a Congressional internship with Congresswoman Susie Lee. This has given him a chance to refine his customer service and writing skills and gain experience with constituent casework. Jesse is also currently involved with Consolidated Students of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (CSUN), UNLV’s undergraduate student government. Through CSUN, Jesse collaborates with his fellow UNLV students to benefit the university as a whole. Jesse is also on the UNLV Criminal Justice Mock Trial Team, through which he is honing his persuasive and logical skills, as well as learning how to successfully engage with the courtroom-based advocacy process. Additionally, Jesse is the Outreach Coordinator for UNLV’s Phi Alpha Delta International Pre-Law Fraternity (PAD), the only Pre-Law, co-ed Fraternity on campus.

As a college student who has experienced foster care, Jesse is passionate about serving his community and his peers who have experienced foster care through advancing equitable education opportunities and encouraging self-advocacy. Jesse is eager to expand his outreach, advocacy, facilitation, public speaking, and leadership skills through his NSHE role, building upon the foundational work of his 2020-2021 predecessor (the amazing Autumn Robertson!) to improve the reach and efficacy of the systemwide initiative. For fun, Jesse enjoys going to the movies, hiking, playing soccer, and traveling. His favorite superhero is the Flash.

autumn-robertson

Autumn Robertson
2020-2021 Foster Youth Success Initiative Peer & Community Educator
Chancellor’s Office
NEVADA SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION

Email Address: arobertson@nshe.nevada.edu

Autumn, a full-time student at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), was the very first NSHE student to hold the Peer and Community Educator role. 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 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 the Clark County Department of Family Service’s Foster And Adopted Youth Together (FAAYT) chapter of the Nevada LIFE Youth Advisory Board—a role which led to her serving a one-year term as the statewide Foster Youth 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. (August 2019), as one of 125 participants across 38 states and 1 tribal nation. Autumn also got involved with the NSHE Foster Youth Success Initiative, through her DCFS ambassador position, in a variety of ways. Autumn participated in the very first statewide NSHE Foster Youth Success Initiative Retreat (September 2019)—as the sole high school foster youth student representative—along with NSHE students with experience in foster care, NSHE staff/faculty, and community partners. Autumn also attended the Los Angeles-based Blueprint for Success Conference (October 2019)—a nationally renowned conference focused on postsecondary education preparation, matriculation, and persistence support for students who have experienced foster care—alongside the NSHE Foster Youth Ambassador and employees from 5 of NSHE’s colleges/universities. Additionally, Autumn has served on the Nevada Fostering Higher Education Committee since it launched in February 2020.

As a college student who has experienced foster care who is devoted to serving her community and advancing education equity, Autumn is very passionate about supporting her peers with their postsecondary education goals. When Autumn began the one-year 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 thrilled that Autumn has now moved on to serve in a brand-new Foster Care Liaison role for the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, a very close community partner in the initiative work. Congratulations, Autumn! We look forward to our continued collaboration with you, and we are grateful for your continued service to the Nevada foster care community!

Initiative Overview

In September 2018, the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) launched its system-wide Foster Youth Success Initiative when the Board of Regents approved the Foster Youth Fee Waiver—permitting all NSHE institutions to waive the course enrollment (tuition) fees for their eligible students (each institution covers the cost of the fee waiver for its own students). Shortly thereafter, NSHE received a $200,000 one-year grant from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, to assist with implementing and coordinating the initiative across its seven degree-granting institutions.

The primary mission of the Foster Youth Success Initiative is to more effectively recruit, support, and retain students who have been dependents of the child welfare system; and, the course enrollment fee waiver is one key component in achieving that goal. However, we know that providing college funding for foster youth is just one crucial part of clearing the way for their successful transition to and persistence in a postsecondary education program.

To that end, NSHE hired Laura Obrist—in July 2019—to serve as its Foster Youth Ambassador. Laura is dedicated to achieving the initiative’s mission, by assisting Nevada’s two- and four-year public colleges/universities with implementing processes and designing/coordinating campus-based support services to aid foster care alumni with enrolling and succeeding in college. She serves as the primary point of contact for, and liaison between, all of the NSHE institutions and community providers—working in collaboration with NSHE system- and institution-level employees, current and former foster youth leaders/students, child welfare agencies, K-12 educators and administrators, legal services providers, court representatives, and other community stakeholders who are well-versed in the unique challenges and needs of this under served student population. Laura facilitates a statewide learning community, composed of NSHE and community partners, which is committed to building a comprehensive, sustainable, and permanent education support system for foster care alumni residing in Nevada—from secondary education completion, to postsecondary education attainment, to a career path. She is leading the development of effective postsecondary education preparation, access, transition, and success strategies that are formulated to assist people with limited support systems. Laura is also working to increase financial aid access and utilization for all NSHE students who have been in foster care—particularly in the form of the Foster Youth Fee Waiver (for eligible current and former dependents of the Nevada foster care system), state and federal grants, and/or scholarships.

In establishing best practices and strengthening resources/services that are tailored to current and former foster youth, NSHE seeks to expand foster youth-serving systems’ capacity to support college-planning activities, improve its own ability to effectively serve students who have been in foster care, and achieve the statewide community’s desire to build stronger career pathways for foster youth.

2020 Initiative Growth Back to Top

To support the continued implementation and growth of the initiative, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation awarded a $30,000 18-month grant to Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC); the grant was approved in November 2019 and the grant cycle began in January 2020. TMCC—the only NSHE institution with a formalized commitment to serving foster care alumni that predates the launch of the system-wide initiative—is using the funding for a pilot project that will reinforce its existing efforts to support “vulnerable youth” and address resource gaps for current and former foster youth who are enrolled at the community college. The majority of TMCC’s grant funding is going toward housing stability and peer mentor support for foster care alumni. Additionally, in February 2020, the Foundation awarded NSHE an additional $400,000 two-year grant, to further support the successful execution of the initiative’s objectives—including increasing utilization of the course enrollment fee waiver for current and former dependents of the Nevada child welfare system and expanding formalized assistance for all students who have experienced foster care. The Foundation also awarded the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) a $200,000 two-year grant to launch a campus-based support program for enrolled foster care alumni, including a new coordinator position dedicated to serving that student population. The 2-year grant cycles for NSHE and UNLV will begin on July 1, 2020.       

NSHE Institution Contacts for Current & Former Foster Youth Back to Top

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

Logo, College of Southern Nevada

College of Southern Nevada
Andrew Reyes

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

Logo - Great Basin College

Great Basin College
Jennifer Brown

(775) 753-2186
jennifer.brown@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
Dianne Hillard
(775) 445-3288
dianne.hillard@wnc.edu

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
08/28/2019 - Southern Nevada Foster Youth Roundtable Discussion with Chancellor Reilly
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.
09/25/2019 - Northern Nevada Foster Youth Roundtable Discussion with Chancellor Reilly
A large conference room with professionals seated at small group tables listen to a speaker leading a presentation
09/27/2019 - NSHE Foster Youth Success Initiative Retreat
Five student panelists sit at the front of a conference room and field questions from the conference participants.
09/27/2019 - Student Panel at the NSHE Foster Youth Success Initiative Retreat
Foster Youth Ambassador Laura Obrist poses for a photo with other conference attendees before a banner that reads 'Blueprint for Success Conference'
10/27/19-10/29/19, 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.
10/27/19-10/29/19 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 Foster Youth Success Initiative Supporters at the 12/06/19 NSHE 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 12/06/19 NSHE Board of Regents Quarterly Meeting
Senator Yvanna Cancela speaks passionately from a podium within a large banquet hall.
Senator Yvanna Cancela, testifying at the 12/06/19 NSHE Board of Regents Quarterly Meeting
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
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