Students who experience foster care are often given a burden greater than they can handle. Dr. Sarah Jones, assistant professor at the University of West Georgia, works to combat that hardship in both her professional and personal life.
As an assistant professor of higher education administration and student affairs in UWG’s College of Education, Jones has conducted studies on how foster children fare in postsecondary education settings.
“Despite their disproportionately low representation in higher education, most students who experience foster care have postsecondary aspirations,” Jones said. “This sense of hope and optimism in education from a group of students that has been historically underserved and overburdened was the foundation for our phenomenological inquiry into the educational transitions of students who experienced foster care.”
Jones presented her research to a broad audience earlier today as part of a segment on “The Academic Minute,” a collaborative program from WAMC public radio in Albany, New York, and the Association of American Colleges & Universities. “The Academic Minute” is a daily module featuring researchers from colleges and universities around the world, keeping listeners abreast of what’s new and exciting in the academy.
Five faculty members from UWG are “taking over” the program this week. To listen to Jones’ segment, visit the program’s website.
Jones’ passion for foster children doesn’t end with her professional research, though.
“This research started as a confluence of my personal and professional experiences,” she said. “I was a classroom teacher for 10 years before working in higher education and saw the impact of education on students in foster care, as well as the impact of foster care on students trying to learn. As a result of that experience, my wife and I became foster and adoptive parents and believe it is part of our responsibility to advocate for the best educational environment for all the children in our care.”
Jones was surprised by her findings – particularly the stories shared by the college students she interviewed.
“Though participants described anxiety, depression and hopelessness that arose from their previous experiences, they generated their own educational equity by transferring the skills they needed to survive the foster care system into their educational environments,” Jones said. “I was surprised to realize these successful college students had previous experiences with neglect and abuse. I did not expect to hear such harrowing narratives; they broke my heart over and over again.”
However, Jones is quick to mention the uniqueness and special skills these students have and how much they inspire her.
“Listening to and reading their narratives also gave me an opportunity to understand each individual’s and this group’s resilience, focus, determination, independence, and engagement,” she said. “Their narratives were inspiring and created the foundation for the work I do and want to do in the future.”
As for future research opportunities, Jones hopes to investigate how well colleges and universities support their students who were once in foster care.
“While researching this project, it became clear that college students who are in foster care are on many, if not all college campuses,” she concluded. “However, not all faculty and staff working on college campuses understand the unique needs of students who experienced foster care. I’m looking at the resources colleges have, as well as the ways college students who experienced foster care engage and connect with their institutions.”
photography by Julia Mothersole