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From Foster Care to Flourishing: Knowles Scholarship Opens the Door to Success

December 3, 2019

Paying for college can seem like a daunting task for anyone, but for students who grew up in foster care or children’s homes, it can be an almost insurmountable task. The J.A. Knowles Scholarship was created with those students in mind.

Administered by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) Office of Loans and Scholarships, the J.A. Knowles Scholarship is awarded annually to students who spent their high school years as residents of any orphanage, children’s home or foster care in Texas. It is a generous scholarship that offers significant assistance in helping students fund their education.

Meet two of the 2019-2020 recipients who are using the scholarship to reach for their dreams.

Elizabeth Harrison, The King’s College, New York, NY

Elizabeth Harrison
Elizabeth Harrison, senior at The King’s College

Until she was 12 years old, Elizabeth Harrison lived in a Russian orphanage and never thought that she would go to college.

“Growing up in Russia, I wasn’t even thinking about college honestly,” she said. “I was thinking I would drop out of school after ninth grade.”

Harrison imagined a brighter future when she was adopted and moved to the United States, but things didn’t work out as planned and she spent her high school years in a children’s home in Rockwell, Texas. It was there that a case worker first told her about the Knowles Scholarship.

“The way that I’m going to college is all on my own. I don’t have a family supporting me or anything like that, so I’ve had to find the means myself,” said Harrison.

Now a senior majoring in politics, philosophy and economics, Harrison has done more than just find the means to go to college. She has found a way to thrive and answer her call to serve others. In addition to her studies, Harrison also volunteers with the children’s team at Liberty Church in Brooklyn and interns for a local anti-human trafficking non-profit. Once she completes her degree, she hopes to pursue the anti-human trafficking cause full-time.

“I feel I am being led into anti-human trafficking and criminal justice reform, and I have always had a passion for writing, law and working with people,” she said.

After a few years working to fight human trafficking in the non-profit space, Harrison would like to apply for law school and pursue a career that would allow her to work to eradicate human trafficking legislatively. In the meantime, she is looking forward to life after graduation in May.

“This scholarship has helped me realize my dream in a way that I didn’t think would be possible,” she said.

John Garcia, The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg, TX

John Garcia
John Garcia, master’s student at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley

Retired United States Marine Sergeant John Garcia has always been interested in medicine but felt that a career in healthcare might be too far out of reach for him.  

“I always wanted to get into medicine but because of my background I was highly intimidated. I’m a first generation everything,” he said. “I came to school for three years [of] undergrad and had a rough time getting through, so I thought it was the best time for me to leave and serve in the military.”

For Garcia — who experienced long periods of homelessness as a child and spent most of his adolescence in foster care — the Marine Corps offered a strong support structure and training that helped build his confidence. While deployed in Afghanistan, he was trained as a combat lifesaver and received hands-on medical experience for the first time.

“I was taught as a Marine to provide the basics of medical care and aid to individuals who were injured — essentially triaging and stabilizing people,” he said.

Garcia served in the Marines for four years before he was injured in combat and medically retired. His experiences spurred him to continue his education when he returned home. Garcia completed his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Texas-Pan American and now also holds a bachelor’s in biology and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Currently, the Knowles Scholarship is helping him pursue a master’s degree in physician assistant studies.

Garcia’s work to become a physician’s assistant is part of a careful path he’s charted towards eventually attending medical school and becoming a doctor. After obtaining his degree in social work, he grew his healthcare experience by working as clinical intern at the South Texas Behavioral Center and volunteering at a free clinic in his hometown of Harlingen, Texas.

When he is not working or studying, Garcia maintains close ties with the Texas foster care system and offers motivational speeches to local youth who are facing the same challenges that he did growing up. For him, the Knowles Scholarship is not only a chance to pursue his dreams but an opportunity to continue giving back and serving as a positive role model in his community.

“I’m super excited about having been selected and, having been awarded this scholarship in the past, it’s been a huge blessing,” he said. “I cannot extend my gratitude enough.”

About GBHEM: The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry embraces the ministry of learning and leadership formation in The United Methodist Church and the Wesleyan tradition; serving Christians around the world who are shaped by a process of intellectual engagement, spiritual and character formation, and leadership development. We cultivate a dynamic culture of call and vocational discernment that encourages lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in God’s ministry and mission for the Church, the academy and the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.