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August 22, 2015 at 1:39 pm

Foster Care Student: ‘Felt I Could Make a Home Here’

Michael Outrich (center) goes to Washington, D.C, to help foster care students. Fellow Bobcat Kimberly Moore (left) also attended.

Michael Outrich (center) goes to Washington, D.C, to help foster care students. Fellow Bobcat Kimberly Moore (left) also attended.

By Cecilia Ellis ’17

There were no parents carrying Michael Outrich’s bags to his freshman dorm.

He came to Ohio University alone, emancipated from the foster care system.

He says he chose Ohio University because of the welcoming atmosphere.

“I felt I could make a home here.”

Now the senior Geography major is reaching across the university and even to Washington, D.C., to help future generations of foster care students become successful college students.

“Being an emancipated foster care youth, myself, the emancipation process was incredibly difficult, so I got increasingly passionate about wanting to help individuals in foster care or that come to a four-year university.”

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Michael Outrich with Congressman Stivers in Washington, D.C.

A Summer of Research and Activism

Outrich began as a Meteorology major, but his interest in maps and spacial data led him to the Geographic Information Sciences major: “I like answering questions such as…where things are. Just a general curiosity, I guess!”

Currently, Outrich has his hand in several different projects throughout the university. This summer he worked with Scripps’s Dr. Michelle Ferrier researching media deserts – areas around the country that lack direct access to news, local and global. The work involved gathering information on these areas, processing that information, and archiving it into a mapping system online. This aim is an application that serves as a database for these places.

Outrich got involved with Ferrier’s project team simply by asking. “None of [the involvement with this work] would’ve been possible if I hadn’t asked!”

Outrich is working with Dr. Gaurav Sinha, Associate Professor of Geography, learning a web GIS system to help adapt it into the curriculum, along with the collected media deserts information.

But for his final project, Outrich is focusing around a study into the emancipation process for students—students who have become totally independent, unsupported by any parent or guardian.

This led him all the way to Washington, D.C.

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The group of 64 invited on the D.C. trip.

From May 18– 21, Outrich was one of 65 young people, all 24 or younger, nationwide chosen to meet with their respective members of Congress to discuss the most important issues faced by foster care youth face.

“I shadowed my congressional representative to help educate him on issues pertaining to foster care youth, because they work directly with policy and then can work on changing that for us. Congressman Steve Stivers was unaware of issues that foster care youth have.”

Outrich’s meeting with Congressman Stivers is kindling on the fire beneath Michael to work on legal policy, outside the school and within.

The Ohio Reach Scholars Program grant ceremony. Briana Hervet, Brooke Grant, Tommy Raimondi, Michael Outrich, Jacob Okumu, LaTasha Watts, Kimberly Moore and William Murray pose with the ceremonial $60,000 check from the Ohio Attorney General's Office and the Ohio Reach Board.

The Ohio Reach Scholars Program grant ceremony. From left, Briana Hervet, Brooke Grant, Tommy Raimondi, Michael Outrich, Jacob Okumu, LaTasha Watts, Kimberly Moore and William Murray pose with the ceremonial $60,000 check from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Reach Board. Photographer: Ben Siegel

The Ohio Reach Scholars Program Takes Shape

Outrich has already spent the last few years working to get changes made within Ohio University to recognize the enormous obstacles faced by foster care youth attempting to adjust to the college environment. A new Ohio University intensive mentorship program—called the Ohio Reach Scholars Program—helps newly admitted foster care youth in their transition into this new life chapter. (See University awarded $60,000 grant to help former foster care students.)

The Ohio Reach Scholars Program, which received the first of the funding on July 1, is administered by the Ohio University Office for Multicultural Student Access and Retention. The program became a reality thanks to the hard work of Jacob Okumu, the coordinator for student outreach and developmental services in OMSAR, who wrote the proposal for the grant. Outrich and Kimberly Moore, a senior international business major from Columbus, were acknowledged by Okumu for helping him develop the program by sharing their stories and personal struggles with him.

This fall, the first cohort of emancipated foster care youth or those at risk of homelessness have been accepted into the program as part of the freshman cohort. They will be brought together to form their own community with access to mentors; campus resources, including “educational programs on independent living skills, scholarship, and personal health and well-being,” and most importantly, an understanding support system, says Outrich.

The program became a reality thanks to the hard work of Jacob Okumu, the coordinator for student outreach and developmental services in OMSAR, who wrote the proposal for the grant.

“Foster care alumni struggle adjusting to college life more so than the general population due to a lack of preparation and support,” says Outrich, who was once a college freshman, entirely on his own, and knows that it’s an enormous undertaking. “When you come from the foster care system, you might not have any family support or have the necessary skills to live independently or the skills to succeed in college. You might not have anybody or know who or how to ask for help.”

When asked about advice for prospective geography students, he advised getting to know your professors, “Get to know your faculty. All you’ve gotta do is ask, make an appointment, introduce yourself. They’re very, very personable. When you first run into an issue, immediately set up an appointment with somebody.”

Plans for Grad School, Establishing Foster Care Mentorship

Outrich says he specifically chose the Geography major because of his curiosity, but immediately found it to be a perfect fit. “There’s so much you can do with [the Geography major]! The faculty are very supportive, and it’s not too big of a program, so you’re not a number. There were a lot of people in the geography department that went above and beyond expectations to help me, and they continue to do so.” He credits a lot of help to his adviser, Dr. Dorothy Sack, Professor of Geography. “These are hard classes, very hard classes. But I’ve learned so much from them all! I love my GIS classes. Dr. Sinha works very hard. He’s spent time in the work force and knows what employers want, and he brings that to us.”

On campus, Outrich is directly involved with the Geography Club as well as being an official peer educator with Power Gamma, a group that hosts programs and leads requested talks across campus, to which he credits his public speaking skills.

Kimberly Moore and Michael Outrich at the Cleveland Purple Project in July.

Kimberly Moore and Michael Outrich at the Cleveland Purple Project in July.

Outrich also headed to Cleveland from June 16-18 for the Cleveland Purple Project – as well as for a panel on youth homelessness in early July. The geo-spacial conference in Columbus this fall is on Outrich’s agenda in order to present the information he’s helped put together for the media deserts project.

As far as the distant future is concerned, Outrich has plans for grad school, with OHIO being his first choice school once again, and furthering his work with foster care youth issues in grad school and beyond. Staying close to home is a main priority in order to see the seeds he’s planted come to fruition.

He wants to continue supporting the mentorship program here at OHIO as it develops.

Beyond the university, Outrich has even bigger plans: “I want to continue to work with foster care youth and help to alleviate some of stressors and the problems and help fix the system. When you’re wards of the state, the state needs to take care of you. They need to do a better job. Ohio ranks dead last in federal child welfare funding, we need to change that.”

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