From ACC to A&M: Former foster student creates her own bright future

Nikole Steffan, ACC grad

'I didn't think it was realistic for me to be at a university - that's what kids with parents did,' Nikole says.

Entering college can be easy for teenagers with parents who help cut through the confusion of researching schools, choosing a major, and applying for financial aid.

ACC grad Nikole Steffan will tell you it’s a lot harder if your parent is the state foster care system.

While an ACC student, Steffan was foster mom to Bella the poodle. She also worked for ACC and a pet store.

“When you turn 18, it’s like the state says, ‘Congrats, good luck.’ You don’t know how to get a job. You’ve never been behind the wheel of a car. It feels like you’re set up to fail. That’s why there’s such a high homeless rate, a high pregnancy rate, just such a high jail rate. It’s discouraging.”

She entered the foster care system at 6 and left it at 18. After she graduated from high school, she enrolled in college, but quit.

“I took a few semesters and couldn’t decide on a major. I went to California and found myself. A pet shop hired me. I worked really hard and moved up quickly. I got close to the veterinarians and loved how people are in this field. I fell in love with biology, so I moved back to Texas to try college again.”

Steffan and Bella meet the Texas A&M mascot, Reveille. 'It's fitting since I've chosen A&M as my university.'

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Steffan enrolled at ACC and was paired with Lee Reichardt, a mentor for the Foster Care Alumni Program (FCA), which helps former foster youth get one-on-one guidance.

“I didn’t realize I was college material until I started getting more encouragement and signed up for FCA at ACC. I didn’t know how to apply or do any of the paperwork, never got a Pell grant or my foster care tuition benefit. So I just kind of didn’t. Now, I’ve come into my own.”

Steffan earned her associate degree from ACC in spring 2014. Her next steps are to complete a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, then enroll in the university’s veterinary program.

“I have a game plan, goals, and dreams,” she says. “My only goal in the past was turning 18 and getting out of foster care. College has given me the opportunity to have goals and dreams, and to lay out a timeline to accomplish them.”

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