Meet the 2023 Project Fairness Scholars

The Project Fairness scholarships are awarded annually to current and former foster youth who are pursuing higher education. The winners receive financial support to participate in an educational program, and mentoring to help them achieve their academic and professional goals.

The 2023 Project Fairness scholars were selected from a large and competitive pool of applicants, and distinguished themselves for their leadership, resilience and commitment to helping others.

Vanessa Brunetta

Vanessa Brunetta is a fourth year student at UCLA majoring in Sociology and trauma-informed studies. After growing up in the foster care system for 13 years, she is dedicated to achieving educational freedom and hopes to guide other youth in underserved communities to achieve educational freedom as well. As an advocate, she hopes to better equip communities with the proper resources to overcome societal boundaries and live healthy, hopeful lives. 

After earning her Bachelors in June 2024, Vanessa plans to continue her education with a Master’s degree in Social Welfare and Law degree specializing in criminal justice. Although young and still learning the ropes of life, Vanessa is determined to spread her message of freedom and justice for every human being. 

Dominique Cleveland

Dominique Cleveland is a junior at Cal State San Marcos pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. She previously was a student at Miracosta College, where she helped start the Resources and Assistance for Former Foster Youth program, known as the RAFFY program. She hopes to obtain a Master’s degree in Sociology and become an academic counselor at Miracosta College.

As a homeless single mom, Dominique knows the financial struggle. She is fighting to provide the best life for her daughter and plans to leave a legacy filled with love and support for people in need. She has a drive and passion to give back to the former foster youth community, and to highlight its need for funding, housing, mentors and advocates.

Cheyenne Paige

Cheyenne Paige is pursuing a degree in nursing at the Mildred Elley School. She has always had a passion for working in pediatrics. But seeing her brother born premature, hooked up to a machine with so many tubes, changed her perspective on the specialty she wanted. Her goal is now to work in the neonatal intensive care unit as a neonatal nurse.

Cheyenne also loves assisting people and wants to be an advocate for teenagers who are experiencing difficulties at home or in the foster care system. One of her favorite hobbies is painting. She feels painting is a form of expressing herself and finds it very therapeutic.

Phoebe Wren Wong

Phoebe Wren Wong is a sophomore at the College of the Holy Cross, double majoring in international studies and photojournalism with a minor in Chinese. In her free time, she freelances as a photographer for Division 1 sports.

Growing up in foster care, she saw firsthand how the system can fall short, igniting her passion for justice. She worked for FoodCorps during her gap year, which eventually led her to speak at the White House’s Conference on Hunger, Health, and Nutrition. Seeing so many leaders in those fields united behind a cause influenced her to want to do the same. Her long-term goal is to start a nonprofit that advocates for youth in foster care and fights for systemic change in the child welfare sector.

Selection process

Project Fairness awarded its scholarships through a detailed evaluation process conducted with a panel of advisors with experience with the foster care and/or higher education system.

All applications are evaluated by the Project Fairness board, whose members scored the applications individually and selected finalists based on assessment averages and consensus voting. The finalists’ applications were then scored by the advisory panel, and each finalist was interviewed by members of the Project Fairness board. Winners were selected on the basis of the top average scores from advisors and Project Fairness board members, combined and weighted equally, as well as to finalists who distinguished themselves during the interview process.