Michigan's College Access Blog

Fostering Inspiration

When MCAN asked me to write a blog in honor of May being National Foster Care Month, I had the following thoughts:

“ABSOLUTELY! I love telling people about how they can support students from foster care!”

“Oh wait, I wrote about that last year…Yikes, what else can I say??”

As the Director of Outreach and Training with Center for Fostering Success, I have had the amazing privilege of overseeing the Fostering Success Michigan statewide initiative since its inception in 2012. I could not be prouder of Fostering Success Michigan and the progress we have made to increase access and success in the education to career pipeline for students from foster care. But, the BEST part of my job is talking with students about their education goals. Let me rephrase that…the BEST part of my job is watching a student’s face when they talk about their education goals. When I am with a student and they are talking about their education goals, it is the reminder of just how resilient our students from foster care are.

Like many of us who work in the fields of education or child welfare, we know that the young adults we work with are resilient, but do we actually hear what resilience sounds like? Do we see what resilience looks like? Next time you are with a student from foster care, I want you to try something. First, tell them that you can help them reach their education goals. Second, ask them about their plans for the future and their current successes. Third, watch what happens! Listen as excitement builds in their voice, watch as a glow spreads across their face, take in their smile as it reaches to their ears, and feel the joy as a spark grows in their eye. I promise you that the experience will truly be inspiring.

Unfortunately, if you are like me, running a million miles a minute, you don’t get to sit down with students and revel in these moments of inspiration as often as you would like. So, in honor of National Foster Care Month, I contacted some of the brilliant students from foster care I know and asked them to share with you how college has, or will, change their life…Get ready to feel inspired!

“College is going to prove that I’m not just a case number. I am a survivor of foster care, abuse and neglect that is going to make a life for herself. College is going to help me break the cycle of poverty and homelessness that my family and I have been struggling with for many years. Finally, college is going to open up doors of opportunities that I will be able to give myself and my future kids that my parents could not give me.”

 - Brittney B. is graduating high school this June and will be a freshman at Eastern Michigan University in Fall 2016.

“College has given me many opportunities; this includes connecting with community and pursuing my personal and academic interests in an environment that encourages me and fosters a great work ethic in me.”

Justin M. will start his senior year at Michigan State University in Fall 2016.

“College has changed my life before I even got here. The word “college”, coming from the inner city of Pontiac, Michigan to Detroit, Michigan, meant only one thing to me: A way out; a way to new-found peace. It’s like going to college automatically meant: moving away from the troubles in life and preparing for untamed success, if you can get there that is. College is tough at moments because it seems like things will all go wrong at the worst times. Sports played a critical role in my education because they opened the doors for me to college, so balancing the two were a task that I knew I was ready for, but didn’t know how they would play out. Graduation is underway; I played two sports in college and maintained a 3.4 GPA. With God, family and a dedication for excellence, anything is possible when you come from nothing, but work hard for everything.”

Damonta’ M. is graduating from Ferris State University in May and will start the Masters in Student Affairs and Higher Education program at Indiana State University in Fall 2016.

“Unlike many people who know their plan from a very young age, I didn’t think that I was going to college, or better yet even understand what that meant. Nonetheless, I was lucky enough to fall into a journey that got me through undergraduate studies and now to be graduate student with only one year left to complete an MSW. My trajectory through education happened in a series of steps which took place at very particular moments in my life. These steps involved educators who encouraged me and “planted the seeds” to get me thinking about what I should do next in my life. Considering these pivotal moments, including all of those whom I’ve met and have influenced my life in some sort of way, I am excited to be able to celebrate such successes as being the first person in my family to graduate from high school, the first person graduate college, the first to attend graduate studies and the first woman in the entire family to be truly self-sufficient and independent.”

- Becky M. is pursuing her Masters in Social Work at Western Michigan University.

I hope you find the words from these students as inspiring as I do. More than that, I hope their words inspire you to think about how you can support the students from foster care in your class, your campus, and your life. Talk with them, ask them to share their education goals with you, let them know that are there to support them and remind them that college really does change everything. You can learn more about Fostering Success Michigan on our website www.FosteringSuccessMichigan.com and follow us on Twitter and Facebook as we celebrate National Foster Care Month every day in May.

Don’t forget to show us your blue ribbons for #NFCM2016! 


Guest Author: Maddy Day, MSW, Director of Outreach and Training, Center for Fostering Success at Western Michigan University

Posted: May 5, 2016


Decision Day Blog Contest Feature, Part Two

This blog is the second in a series of five installments written or filmed by high school seniors, that explain how college will be a "game changer." The blogs were selected from entries to MCAN's Decision Day Blog Contest, which celebrates the college-selection decision happening for thousands of students throughout the state of Michigan. A winning entry will be featured on MCAN's blog every Tuesday, beginning April 26 and through May 24.


How We Hope College Will be a Game Changer

By Hayllie Elliot and Sierra Haynes, Mancelona High School



Posted: May 3, 2016

Decision Day Blog Contest Feature, Part One

This blog is the first in a series of five installments written by high school seniors, that explain how college will be a "game changer."  The blogs were selected from entries to MCAN's Decision Day Blog Contest, which celebrates the college-selection decision happening for thousands of students throughout the state of Michigan. A winning entry will be featured on MCAN's blog every Tuesday, beginning April 26 and through May 24.


Northern Michigan University Will be a Game Changer

By Megan Martin, Jonesville High Schooldecision-day-meganmartin-1

“College.” That’s a word you hear quite a bit as a high school senior. There are so many colleges to consider, majors to choose from, extracurricular groups to select. In all honesty, it’s petrifying. I keep myself going by thinking about all the exciting new experiences and opportunities I am going to have while I am there. I’ll be attending Northern Michigan University in the fall. That was a hard decision for me to elect but when it came down to the basics, no other school felt like home to me. I’ve never been the finest at making friends, I’ve always struggled to fit in but the first time I stepped on Northern’s campus, I knew innovation was going to happen. I hope college is going to be a game changer through the new doors that are going to open with friendships, career opportunities and driven passion for new experiences.

I’m not going to be the first person in my family to attend college. My sister has, my brother has and my mom currently is. I will, however, be the first to leave for college. My sister and brother lived at home while they went to school part time. Even then, I chose not to just go anywhere, I chose a college eight hours away. By choosing a college quite a distance away, I hoped I would find my independence and branch out in new way that I can’t here in my hometown. When you hear all those stories from college students about this and that, how they went here and there, it opens your mind to possibilities. I hope to travel to Marquette and be the college student telling my stories to my high school friends back home.

While there are all these exciting aspects of leaving for this next step in my life, what if I get sick? My mom can’t drive eight hours to rub my back and give me soup. What about those days I’m too stressed out and need to relax with my best friend? She can’t drive eight hours to take me on a shopping spree. How do I get home for the holidays if the Mackinac Bridge closes for bad weather? I fear missing my dad’s birthday because finals have me so stressed out I forget. I fear missing my brother’s graduation from basic training because it doesn’t work into my schedule. I fear my family moving my things out of my bedroom. Yeah, college is thrilling and I’m sure everything will turn out fine but I fear not knowing what my future holds or how things will work out.

Ice climbing, cross country skiing, kayaking through Lake Superior are just a few of the opportunities I hope to embrace as I shift to Northern. Northern will be a game changer for me and I’m excited for the experiences I’ll be able to share in the years to come.


Posted: April 26, 2016 


Exciting Changes at the MCAN Headquarters

New structure and new faces as we head into our sixth year

Last August I posted a blog about birthdays – MCAN’s fifth birthday as well as the “birth day” of my son Kirby. Kirby has grown a lot since August – he’s more than tripled his birth weight, he crawls everywhere, and has two teeth. MCAN has also grown a lot since August and I’m excited to share some exciting developments from our office in downtown Lansing. In January, MCAN launched a new organizational structure to help streamline our operations and build in more capacity that will enable us to work efficiently and effectively toward Goal 2025.  

As always, MCAN’s strategic approach is guided by our talented and committed 11-person board of directors. We recently welcomed two new board members to replace those who completed their terms. They are: Robert (Bob) Ferrentino, president of Montcalm Community College; and Daniel Mitchell, who serves as an MSU College Advising Corps member in Northern Michigan. I have the pleasure of reporting to the board and they are a consistent source of support to me and the MCAN team.  

MCAN now is organized into four departments, with each department head reporting directly to me.  Three of the four department heads are familiar faces, but check out their brand new titles!


Kirby is a loyal Spartans fan!

 MCAN Staff-Awards-Dinner-2016-2317 800x420

MCAN staff pictured left to right: Connor McLaughlin, Sarah Anthony, Christi Taylor, Jamie Jacobs, Brandy Johnson, Ryan Fewins-Bliss, Bristol Day, and Jacqueline Ruhland.

Capacity Building
This department is led by Jamie Jacobs (Director of Capacity Building). Jamie is tasked with strengthening the abilities of college access professionals and providing them with the tools that they need so that they can be as effective as possible.  Her “buckets” of work include our annual conference, professional development for practitioners, our school counselor postsecondary planning course, and issues related to data, research, and technology. She also will help MCAN explore and execute new opportunities for innovation.  

Community Investment
The Community Investment department is led by Ryan Fewins-Bliss (Deputy Director for Community Investment). This department is by far our largest, which speaks to our deep commitment to Michigan’s community-based college access efforts. Ryan is still our “Chief LCAN Officer” and also oversees our grant-making strategy. Ryan is joined by Christi Taylor, our Director of Statewide Initiatives, who manages our campaigns targeted to high schools like College Application Week and the Reach Higher High School grant program. Ryan and Christi are supported by one of MCAN’s newest teammates, Program Assistant Connor McLaughlin, who is a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University. Finally, AdviseMI also lives within the Community Investment department and includes Co-Directors Bristol Day and Jacqueline Ruhland, along with the 40 college advisers (and growing!) they supervise.  

Partnerships and Advocacy
This department will be led by Sarah Anthony (Deputy Director for Partnerships and Advocacy). This will be a major transition for Sarah, who has largely focused her time on the financial and operational management of MCAN during the last several years. She will now focus on managing our advocacy and communication efforts, and building/strengthening partnerships with mission-aligned statewide and national organizations. She will continue to facilitate the Michigan College Access Alliance and Michigan Reach Higher Alliance and serve as a liaison to the Michigan Veterans Education Initiatives and Michigan Promise Zones. She will be an ambassador of Goal 2025 and encourage other organizations across the state to join our movement.  

Operations and Finance
Given our exponential growth over the last year or so, MCAN’s board of directors and I reached the conclusion that we need dedicated, full-time staff to manage MCAN’s internal operations. We are thrilled to announce that we recently hired Ms. Cheryl McPherson as our new Director of Finance and Operations and her first day will be Monday, April 18! Most recently, Cheryl served as Assistant Dean for Finance and Operation at Oakland University’s School of Nursing. She has degrees from Michigan State University and Central Michigan University – which gained the approval of Ryan and Sarah (Fire Up Chips!) as well as Jamie, Christi, Jacque, and Bristol (Go Green!). She brings a wealth of experience in financial management, budgeting, and HR. Cheryl is joined by Operations Assistant Dawn Stemen, who joined MCAN in January.  

As MCAN and Kirby continue to grow, I continually look forward to achieving the next exciting milestone – Kirby is on the verge on saying his first word and Michigan is on the verge of hitting 40 percent degree attainment! I can’t wait to celebrate many more birthdays with BOTH of my growing families in the years to come!  


Brandy Johnson headshot 2013Author: Brandy Johnson, executive director
Posted: April 13, 2016


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