Using my journey in higher education to help others

Foster Youth at UT Austin

By Adrian Gaspar

At the University of Texas at Austin there over 51,000 students. 27 are former foster youth using their tuition waivers. I am one of them. My name is Adrian Gaspar, and I am a current Master’s student at UT Austin’s School of Social Work. Tied for 7th in the nation, let’s just say that it is not an easy feat for anyone to be accepted to this Social Work program, especially a kid who attended 9 different high schools.

For the approximately 27,000 foster youth in Texas, the ability to attend a university is mostly a pipe dream. In fact, only 2% of foster youth will earn a Bachelor’s degree from Texas’ institutions of higher learning. Most American youth will grow up with a family. They will look forward to college life and know that they will have support while they go to school. For the few foster youth attending universities in Texas, this is simply not true. We arrive at universities across our vast state with only our few belongings, little money, no one to call family and no support systems. Most of us run away from the burdensomely bureaucratic and unstable foster care system as fast and far as we can, but we are unprepared for the psychosocial confrontations waiting for us on our arrival at college.

I was beyond excited to begin living my own life on my own terms, but I was not ready for the fact that I had missed out on my adolescence and I had no one to help me work through the numerous temptations present for undergraduates at UT Austin. I blundered through my first three years of undergraduate life and performed well below my caliber. I was alone and I was sad about it, so I lost focus on my academic work.

My experience is only one variation of the many unfathomable stories that describe the trouble former foster youth at have attending a large university.  I was able to eventually strengthen my support system, recuperate, and fulfill my degree requirements with flying colors.  More importantly, both my experiences in foster care and in university life guided me towards Social Work for my MSSW and a career as an advocate for former and current foster youth.

To change or improve the struggles of just one peer will have made my downfall and rise worth every painful moment.  That is why I am working with the team at the Child and Family Research Institute to figure out ways to support former foster youth on our campus.


SPARKING growth, change and success
By Shannon Mann

Because of stories like Adrian’s, staff of the Child and Family Research Institute are developing program on UT’s campus called SPARK. The purpose of SPARK is to increase the numbers of foster youth who attend AND graduate from UT Austin. Our hope is that once  youth have been accepted to UT, the SPARK program will provide campus support through case management, weekly informal gatherings, and supportive academic advising and tutoring as needed. Former foster youth at UT will also be linked to mentors to assist with professional development and career exploration.

I urge you to get involved in SPARK!  If you are a former foster youth we would love to meet you and get you connected to resources. You don’t have to do this alone!

As a member of the community you can also get involved – your donation of time, in-kind resources, and financial contributions make a significant impact on the lives of those who are seeking a path to higher education and self-sufficiency.  Every dollar you invest in SPARK stays in the UT family and goes directly to supporting one of our life-changing programs.

If you are interested in getting involved in SPARK contact Shannon Mann-Butler ( and visit the SPARK website.