New UWT program supports former foster youth and unaccompanied minors who are experiencing homelessness.
The University of Washington Tacoma campus has begun a new program to meet the specific needs of current UWT students who have experienced the foster care system or are unaccompanied youth currently experiencing homelessness while attending UWT.
The Passport Champions Program, started in Autumn 2022, aims to provide focused support for participants, making it easier to complete their post-secondary education and go on to thrive in their chosen careers.
The National Foster Youth Institute reports college graduation rates for former foster youth in the US are less than 10 percent. Studies have shown that only 3-4% of former foster youth in the US obtain a four-year college degree, and between 2-6% have received a two-year degree.
The National Foster Youth Institute attributes these low graduation rates to a lack of resources, support, mentorship, financial assistance, stability and guidance for youth when navigating higher education systems. In an effort to thwart these statistics, UWT implemented the Passport Champions Program to support these unmet needs for program participants.
Meraf Geberehiwot, UWT Passport Champions Program Advisor, discussed how the UWT Passport Champions Program has seen many former foster youth thrive in the short amount of time it has been running at UWT.
The program, a service under the Passport to Careers program, provides financial, academic and housing support as well as counseling, mentorship and on-campus activities and events. The Passport Champions Program cultivates network and resource allocation opportunities for program participants, while providing other needs-based services.
Geberehiwot, having prior experience working with youth at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, says he is inspired by program participants because he sees them thrive and flourish, despite the challenges they have had to overcome. Geberehiwot stressed the importance of growing a strong and sustainable program for UWT students that is centered around providing support and community to boost students’ success.
“A question I revisit is ‘once they’re here, how do we have the supports in place to where the students are retained, and therefore succeed?’” Geberehiwot said, “A supported student is a retained student.”
To build an environment that supports student success, in addition to one-on-one appointments and other programming options, Geberehiwot is currently developing student volunteer positions. These roles will offer Champions Program students an opportunity to volunteer with the program while gaining work experience on campus.
The Passport Champions Program offers drop-in hours on Thursdays from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.. Drop-in hours offer participants a space to build community, enjoy snacks and drinks, play games and receive support with homework, applications, and other program service needs. Geberehiwot says providing support in several different capacities is the best way to help students succeed.
“Working in higher education, from a student support perspective, (Passport Champions Program students) are here because they are trying to grow. Growth is the end game… Honoring that inherent hope and the inherent resilience (of Passport Champions Program students) is important because they are in the pursuit of achievement. That’s why it’s so vital that somebody is here (at UWT) to be a point person, a pillar of support for these students,” Geberehiwot says.
If you are a UWT student who has been involved in the foster care system at any point in your life or are under the age of 22 and are currently experiencing homelessness as an unaccompanied youth while attending UWT, contact Meraf Geberehiwot at email@example.com
To learn more about the UWT Passport Champions Program visit the program website at https://www.tacoma.uw.edu/d7/uwt/student-life/passport-championsThe Passport Champions Program is sponsored by the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC).