Editor’s note: A previous version of this post said 4% of foster youth successfully graduate college and has been corrected to 3%.

So much has happened since I’ve started here at ODU which is why it is important that I share as much of my experience with you for you to understand how my college experience is in no way like the traditional ones you see. Let me first start with how I ended up at Old Dominion University (ODU). I visited in 7th grade while on a college trip with this organization called Higher Achievement. When I saw the campus, I immediately fell in love. The beauty, the diversity, the cleanliness, it all instantly appealed to me. So, when it came time to select colleges, I already knew ODU would be it for me. Once I was accepted, I immediately hit the ground running.

The summer before my freshman year, I participated in Freshman Summer Institute which is a program for incoming freshman to experience the campus. It was a great experience; I instantly became very involved. I made so many meaningful connections and had the time of my life. After that experience ended, I began preparing for my freshman year. While beginning to think about my freshman year, I knew that I wanted to start an organization.

When I arrived on campus, I began working on developing Foster-U. I connected with the Office of Leadership & Student Involvement, began forming my constitution and bylaws, and adverted my organization around campus. Now, at first, it was challenging because I was new, but after awhile students started gravitating to the organization and that’s when it began to take off.

Just to give a little background on Foster-U: our goal is to encourage higher education in foster youth through community service, mentorship, and workshops to help foster that long term vision of one day attending a four-year institution. My purpose for creating Foster-U stemmed from my own experience in the foster care system. I entered the foster care system in my freshman year of high school and remained in the system throughout my high school career. During that time, I transitioned between four foster homes and while it was quite challenging for me personally, it also was quite eye-opening.

I was in treatment foster care with United Methodist Family Services, which has a program for youth called Project Life. With Project Life, I was able to participate in workshops, conferences, and other activities that included other foster youth and that’s where my love and passion to help foster youth began to blossom. Hearing how other youth were being made to feel less than and unworthy of good things solely because of the situation they came out of broke my heart, truly. Through hearing those stories, I began seeing my future and how I would be able to reach back and help.

So, after the beginning of Foster-U, I embarked on my first internship the summer after my freshman year with FosterClub. During that experience, I was able to connect with 10 other foster youth from across the country and we traveled to policy meetings, workshops, and conferences to advocate on behalf of youth in foster care across the United States. It was an amazing experience that opened my eyes to the world of issues that youth in foster care face as well as the positions that I could put myself in to be able to uplift them into a better place. After that experience, I went on to complete my next internship experience with Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) where I wrote a federal policy report on Establishing Trust Funds for Youth in Foster Care which I then presented my report to Members of Congress, Health & Human Services as well as First Lady Melania Trump. It was another eye-opening experience that allowed me to serve youth in foster care in a larger capacity.

Now, after embarking on those experiences, I have been blessed in so many ways. I now serve on the Board of Directors for United Methodist Family Services; I am an Advisory Board member with Connect Our Kids as well as an Internal Advisory Board Member for Tidewater Friends of Foster Care. I have also completed an internship with American Express as a Marketing Intern which has helped to diversify my skillset.

Looking ahead, I will be attending Regent University where I will be pursuing my Master of Divinity with a concentration in Spiritual Formation. I am so excited to wrap up my semester here at Old Dominion University where I was able to plant so many seeds and evolve into who I am today.

My college experience was a roller coaster of high moments and low moments but I committed to beating the 3% statistic of foster youth who successfully graduate from college to show youth in foster care that success has no straight line. My experiences have only made me stronger and prepared me to be a strong, independent, and courageous leader in this world. I know and understand who I am and the true power I have within to evoke change not only on a local level, but a national level as well.

My future is very bright because of my non-traditional college experience.

Melvin Roy (he/him) is graduating from Old Dominion University majoring in Human Services with a minor in Psychology. He is the founder of Foster-U and currently serves on the Board of Directors for United Methodist Family Services. Looking ahead, Melvin will be pursuing his Master of Divinity with a concentration in Spiritual Formation at Regent University where he will evolve into a great leader for not only his community but his country.