UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (WTAJ) — For many youth in the foster care system, continuing their education at the collegiate level may seem out of reach.

The Fostering Lions Program was founded in 2018 to provide support, critical university services, and help developing skills for post-graduation success to Penn State students who were previously in foster care.

“Eighty percent of them, when asked, say that they want to go on to college,” said Cheri McConnell, a coach for the Fostering Lions Program. “Twenty percent actually go, and only 2-9% graduate.”

McConnell said that most students in foster care don’t have a role model who would specifically point them towards college. She is looking to change that.

“I have been across the state, to Children and Youth Services, talking to their staff during presentations to their students involved in independent living. Again, letting them know that college is an option,” McConnell said.

“We have been growing since then,” McConnell added. “I’ve gone from three students to the 38 that I’m now currently working with.”

One student who is taking advantage of these resources is Aniyah Gardner. Gardner is a sophomore who said the program helped her adjust to life at Penn State.

“You’re not only getting to interact with other people who are in foster care, and like, learn from them,” Gardner said. “You’re also getting to learn from other people on campus.”

Gardner said this gave her the push to interact with other people and made her want to learn about other things on campus.

After taking a year off, and switching to a virtual format, McConnell hopes to bring back the Fostering Little Lions Camp soon. As an in-person summer camp for youth in foster care, participants experienced a taste of what college is like.

“My goal is to actually work with my points of contact to get this happening at several Penn State campuses,” McConnell said. “So, if we can get out to the campuses, we can reach more students and give them the experience and get them excited about college.”

She also is looking to expand the program throughout the community in the future.

“I would one day like to have the community have the opportunity to be able to come in to meet with these students on a regular basis,” McConnell said. “I feel like it would be a great resource for the students.”