Project Fairness youth scholars talk about their lives, career goals and experiences with the Project Fairness program.

Brittney Barros

Brittney Barros is a 2022 Project Fairness scholar. She has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan, where she is also pursuing a master’s degree in public policy. During her scholarship with Project Fairness, she was hired full-time by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as a children and youth engagement coordinator.

Tell us about how you found out about the scholarship and your application process.

I found out about the Project Fairness scholarship through social media, someone in my network connected me on Facebook. I realized that I met the qualifications, being a young person from foster care as well as wanting to make a difference in the system that I came from. 

The first time that I applied, I didn’t get it because I was already fully funded for my first master’s degree. But then when I applied for my second master’s degree, I ended up getting the email from Sasha that I got the scholarship and I was so excited and super happy.

What did you use the scholarships funds for?

I used the Project Fairness scholarship funds for tuition. Tuition is about $15,000 at the school that I go to, and the scholarship was about $5,000.

What have been the most important parts of the scholarship for you?

The most important components of the Project Fairness scholarship have been the professional and personal connections I’ve been able to make. I’ve been able to connect to people that are in my dream jobs. 

I was able to connect to other folks that work in child welfare on a federal level, which is what I aspire to do. The connections were really important for me to network with people that care about the same causes that I do.

Tell us about how you got your current job.

I work at the Michigan Supreme Court as a youth champion for young people in foster care. I help them through their legal proceedings as they navigate the complexities of child welfare. I met my supervisor at a philanthropy event for a local organization. 

I also work full-time at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as a children and youth engagement coordinator. And I was connected to that position through my supervisor at the Michigan Supreme Court. So I actually work both jobs.

What kind of change has having a full-time job brought in your life?

I was able to better manage my time as a full-time employee and part-time student. I was able to utilize mental health services more effectively. And I was able to get myself out of poverty. 

I was able to go from that struggling young girl, you know, barely making ends meet to someone that can say that I make money. And I was able to connect to people in my field and build a sense of community within the child welfare system. 

What advice would you give to future applicants?

If you’re considering applying for the Project Fairness scholarship, I highly recommend doing it. Be persistent, just because you don’t get that scholarship the first time it does not mean you won’t get it a second time. 

I would also say show your true self in the application through the essays. Authenticity is very important when it comes to scholarship applications. And be prepared to not only get the scholarship, but be prepared to have mentoring, contacts and check-ins with Project Fairness, as well as building a sense of community. 

What stands out to you about the Project Fairness scholarship that makes it different from other scholarships?

Project Fairness stands out to me because not only did I receive financial assistance to pay for my tuition at school, but they also offered mentoring and a sense of community. I was able to connect with other Project Fairness scholars, and build a sense of trusting relationships among people that have experience in foster care. Project Fairness has truly helped me in building a sense of hope that we can get our degree, there is hope to have a higher education for young folks in foster care. 

Tianna Wolin

Tianna Wolin is a 2018 Project Fairness scholar. She is pursuing a degree in Education at Cuyamaca College in California, and she is Project Fairness’ 2018 Student Representative. We spoke with Tianna about applying for the scholarship and her experience with Project Fairness.

How did you first hear about the Project Fairness scholarships, and what made you decide to apply?

I met with my scholarship advisor at my college, and she recommended to look into different scholarships that I would qualify for. And I found your scholarship online when I researched former foster youth scholarships. The key words that I saw within the scholarship were resilience, character and helping others.

Being a CASA [Court Appointed Special Advocate] with Voices for Children, I give back to the community. Resilience is a word that was mentioned to me several times when I was a foster child. Growing up, I felt that was a key word that represented my life, as well as character.

What tips would you give about the application to someone who is applying now?

Project Fairness is looking to grow a team of former foster youth who are passionate about school, but who are also passionate about their community. We want applicants to join us who will help expand and grow Project Fairness.

Take a moment to think about ways that you help your community. Share with Project Fairness how you support your community, and how your character and resilience plays a role in your passion about school and your future career.

When you were selected as a finalist, you were then interviewed by members of the Project Fairness team. What was the interview like and do you have any tips on that?

The interview was thought out and thorough. I would advise that you set aside time for the interview and don’t rush through it. Beforehand think about qualities that you bring to your community and qualities that make you a good student. And just enjoy the interview process overall and don’t stress.

How have you used the scholarship money from Project Fairness?

I’ve used the scholarship money for tuition, books, a new computer, supplies for school, and living expenses.

I got a laptop computer that I’m able to do my online classes with, and I’m also able to log in at any moment in time to the school system and work from home or on the go. All my required textbooks for all of my classes were covered by the scholarship, as well as living expenses that arise monthly. I was able to able to pay for some of my rent and groceries, as well as a new gym membership, a new backpack and a scientific calculator.  

You chose to participate in Project Fairness’ mentorship program. Can you explain how that works and what you’ve gotten out of the mentorship program?

The mentorship is a vital piece of the scholarship. I believe that it’s necessary to have support in your field of work, and Project Fairness has connected me with professionals that are within my career path. The different professionals all have different positions and different perspectives and ideas, and I’m able to connect with them and ask them questions when needed. And now I have people that I can connect with and have a sense of community and support with in my future.

Between last summer before you were selected and now, do you feel more confident about achieving your academic and professional goals? If so, how has the scholarship contributed to that?

In the future I would like to be a special education teacher for elementary school children, as well as my long term goal of being an elementary school principal.

I’ve gained more support and resources, and I’ve become more empowered to be able to go forward in my career path, because of the sense of community that Project Fairness has given me. It shows me that there are people that care about me and want to see me succeed. It gives me more strength in knowing that I have a support system with the scholarship team.

Are you thinking about applying for a Project Fairness scholarship? You can contact Tianna with any questions at tianna.wolin@gmail.com.

Hannia Martinez

Hannia Martinez is a 2018 Project Fairness scholar. She is a sophomore at San Diego State University, where she is studying psychology, and she plans to attend law school. We spoke with Hannia about her passion for family law and her involvement with Project Fairness.

How did you become interested in psychology, going to law school, and family law?

I took my first psychology course in my senior year of high school, and I really enjoyed it. I had always watched crime shows, and the behavioral aspects were always so interesting to me. In my freshman year, I joined the Criminal Justice Students Association because I thought about pursuing forensic psychology or being a detective—that sort of work.

But a series of speakers, including a public defender, a retired district attorney, and an intern at the San Diego Superior Court, inspired me in terms of law. I was leaning toward family law, because I have that background with child welfare services myself, and I wanted to give that back to other people.

What was high school like for you?

I was fortunate to be in a great school system in St. Helena, California, but I was raised by guardians who were strict, and I couldn’t participate in sports or other extracurricular activities until I transitioned into foster care in my junior year. At a certain point, school became a safe haven for me since my home life was really not anything special. I found comfort doing my homework and reading books.

How did you hear about Project Fairness, and what made you decide to apply?

I heard about Project Fairness through Just in Time for Foster Youth—it was mentioned in their newsletter. I’m a huge scholarship freak—whenever I hear about one and I qualify, I definitely apply, because I need as much aid as possible.

What did you do with the proceeds?

It’s mostly gone towards living expenses. For example, parking at my internship is a significant expense for me. Also car insurance, groceries, and other basics. Since I do have tuition and room and board covered, basically the Project Fairness scholarship goes toward everything else not included in that.

How did you approach the application process, and what advice do you have for other applicants?

Most of the questions posed on the application were similar to those on other scholarships, but Project Fairness is more oriented to foster care. It encouraged me to be more reflective about my foster care experience, which was challenging but good. I would encourage others to take a moment, sit back, and reflect on how their foster care experience affected them.

In my interview, I tried to make it clear that I didn’t want to be taking from other students who needed it more. Janet was asking me, ‘How much do you want?’ To me it was sort of a scary question, because I didn’t want to say, ‘Well, I want it all,’ and have other students miss out. I wanted to be sure that I was deserving and that I wasn’t taking someone else’s opportunity.

How has the Project Fairness mentorship program helped you?

It’s been extremely helpful. I enjoy talking to people who are already where I want to be—hearing about their journeys, experiences, and the nitty gritty details that you can’t Google. Janet introduces me to a professional every month, usually an attorney, because she knows I’m interested in law. She also connects me with people who pursue psychology and psychiatry professionally and people who work with criminals. It’s encouraging—to say the least—to know that they got through it, and that I can get through it.

Is there anything about Project Fairness that stands out for you?

Most scholarships just give you the check, and they’re out of your life, but the Project Fairness scholarship is one that really cares. Janet really cares, and Sasha really cares. As a former foster youth, I don’t have many ties with my biological family or my previous guardian—I have to replace the support a family would give with a chosen family. I remember once I told Janet how I got an A on an exam, and she was just so happy for me! I didn’t have many people to share that with, and so it means a lot to have someone thinking about me and rooting for me.