From Foster Care to Free MBA
By Sandra Baltazar Martinez
The two-day old baby needed a home. And foster parents.
Soon after she was born, Children and Family Services took Brandy Renee Taylor and her 2-year-old sister away from her drug-addicted mother. Her grandmother stepped in, along with the man she had just married six months earlier.
Bill and Dorothy Lockridge, both in their late 50s, parented the girls for nine years, but a family situation drove Children and Family Services into their family’s San Bernardino home, taking the girls into foster care. Both girls were in and out of the system for nearly four years.
After bouncing from foster home to foster home, Taylor made it back to her grandparents’ house. Her sister didn’t. In spite of the instability and the constant feelings of abandonment that still haunt her, Taylor graduated from the University of California, Riverside in 2013 with the support of UCR’s Guardian Scholars Program for foster youth. This fall, Taylor started a master’s in business administration, with a concentration in management and is the inaugural recipient of the UCR School of Business Guardian Scholarship for graduate students.
The scholarship covers tuition and fees, and the difference is subsidized by work-study teaching assistant appointments and a personal loan.
“I have been through a few challenges in my life, but with the support of this school and Guardian Scholars, I have achieved more than I ever thought I would. I’ve had so much love and support,” said Taylor, referring to UCR’s Guardian Scholars Program, which celebrated its 10thanniversary in November. The network is designed to support students transitioning from the foster care system into the university. It currently works with 150 students.
Taylor worked as an associate underwriter at a commercial insurance company for five years after graduating from UCR. She quit her job this fall and is now immersed in her MBA studies.
Supporting students such as Taylor in their educational trajectory is important for the mission of the School of Business, said Dean Yunzeng Wang.
“When they told me about Guardian Scholars, I was really touched,” Wang said. “These students have given it all they have to make it here. They are marvelous, and I think we have a responsibility to help them – and in turn help our society.”
At many levels, Wang can relate to Taylor and the other scholars. He grew up in rural Shandong Province, China, too poor to have shoes on his feet. He went off to college wearing his only good clothes, but managed to graduate and become the first in his family with a college degree.
“We are very proud to have Brandy in our program,” Wang said. “She’s a role model for others.”
Taylor is appreciative of the opportunity. She studies into the late hours and commutes from the Los Angeles area. Returning as a 28-year-old student means coming in with greater focus and dedication, although she made the Dean’s List as an undergrad and graduated with a 3.4 GPA.
She accomplished this while commuting to UCR daily from San Bernardino and acting as the full-time caregiver for the grandparents who raised her and who ensured she grew up to be respectful, kind, and have positive values. They dressed her in Goodwill outfits, put money in her pockets from the loose change they found between the couch cushions, and made her improve her spelling by using a dictionary.
As their caregiver, Taylor quickly learned how to cook, clean, pay bills, and to call a repairman when stuff broke around the house.
During her sophomore year at UCR, she lost both grandparents to pre-existing illnesses. The Guardian Scholars program offered her the emotional support a family would have typically provided during a time of loss.
Leading that support was Tuppett Yates, UCR professor of psychology and executive director of Guardian Scholars. The program is self-sustaining.
“Brandy is a risk-taker. She quieted her well-founded reservations about dangerous people and broken promises, to test the waters of our Guardian Scholars Program,” Yates said. “It is hard to convey the courage it takes for a student with a history of foster care to take those risks, to think about a future when their present is so uncertain, but our students do it each and every day.” Yates said.
Now, back in a graduate program, Taylor has a support system in place. Yates is only a phone call away, the School of Business is rooting for her success, as are Mary and Terry Schuler, a husband and wife duo who have a profound dedication to their alma mater and Guardian Scholars.
The Schulers encouraged Taylor to apply and walked her through the application process, explaining the financial aid package offered by the School of Business. The couple spent a recent Friday night at the annual Guardian Scholars Christmas dinner celebration – as they did when Taylor was an undergrad. At the dinner, organized by UCR faculty, staff, and community volunteers, students receive Christmas gifts and play white elephant.
“The scholarship from the business school is an incredible gift, but it, too, has required tremendous courage on Brandy’s part,” Yates said. “At the same time, the School of Business has taken its own risk to fund Brandy’s education. In all instances, these are risks with far-reaching benefits, and I look forward to seeing the rewards of this collaborative endeavor in the years to come.”
Taylor is loving the student setting again, noting the resources, labs, trainings, and study groups are all set up to make her cohort succeed. She plans to forge a career in human resources because all people deserve an opportunity to succeed, she said.
“I’m not an incredible person in any way, but I want to be able to tell, to share with people that ‘you can do it, that you have value, and to go for that job,’” Taylor said. “In life, you just have no option but to keep going.”