NSHE Foster Youth Success Initiative

An audience of CSN graduates in blue caps and gowns

Initiative Overview

NSHE Foster Youth Initiative Report

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.       

Foster Youth Ambassador Back to Top

Profile Image - Laura Obrist

Laura Obrist, MSW
Foster Youth Ambassador
Chancellor’s Office

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


Autumn Robertson
Past Foster Youth Success Initiative Peer & Community Educator
Chancellor’s Office

Email Address: arobertson@nshe.nevada.edu

Autumn graduated from Moapa Valley High School in May 2020 and is currently a first-year student at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). However, Autumn began taking classes at the College of Southern Nevada (CSN) in her junior year of high school and she enrolled at UNR with about a year of college curriculum already completed. Autumn currently plans on majoring in economics and hopes to one day earn a Ph.D. and become a professor.

Autumn is not only a dedicated student, but also a demonstrated leader in her community and an experienced foster youth advocate. In high school, Autumn served as her school’s JAG Career Association President and National Honor Society Blood Drive Coordinator. She also spent the summer of 2019 as an intern for UNR Cooperative Extension, through the Clark County Summer Business Institute. Additionally, 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 foster youth across the state. Among many other projects affiliated with that role, Autumn represented Nevada foster youth 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 foster youth/foster care alumni students, 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 current and former foster youth—alongside the NSHE Foster Youth Ambassador and employees from 5 of NSHE’s colleges/universities. Additionally, Autumn has served on the Nevada Foster Youth Higher Education Committee since it launched in February 2020.

As a former foster youth who is devoted to serving her community and advancing education equity, Autumn is very passionate about supporting her peers with their postsecondary education goals. Autumn is very excited to expand her facilitation and outreach skills, planning to utilize her experience with public speaking, graphic design, promotion, and advocacy in her new role. Autumn wants folks to know that “it’s a great honor to be the first in this position and I hope to make it something great.”

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

Logo - University of Nevada, Las Vegas

University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Janna Bernstein
(702) 895-5603

Logo - University of Nevada, Reno

University of Nevada, Reno
James Beattie
(775) 682-8943

Logo - Nevada State College

Nevada State College
Margie Toves

(702) 992-2169

Logo, College of Southern Nevada

College of Southern Nevada
Bernadette Lopez-Garrett

(702) 651-5620

Logo - Great Basin College

Great Basin College
Jennifer Brown

(775) 753-2186

Logo - Truckee Meadows Community College

Truckee Meadows Community College
Andy Hughes

(775) 673-7042

Logo - Western Nevada College

Western Nevada College
Dianne Hillard
(775) 445-3344

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