From Foster Care to College Honor Student

From Foster Care to College Honor Student

Rutgers University-Newark graduate Megan Campbell understands resilience

Megan Campbell will graduate from Rutgers University-Newark Honors Living-Learning Community after a lot of hard work and perseverance. 
Photo: Bria Williams

“I was told that researchers don’t know what makes people resilient, some people are just strong. There was so much alcohol and drug abuse around me that I thought it would be me. I thought I would become a product of what I was around.”
– Megan Campbell

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Robin Lally

Megan Campbell’s mother did not show up to her eighth grade graduation a decade ago. It was then she told herself that their relationship was over.

“But it was okay,” says the 24-year-old who will graduate this month from the Honors Living-Learning Community (HLLC) at Rutgers University-Newark with a degree in social work from the Newark College of Arts and Sciences and begin a master’s degree program in the field this summer at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “At that moment, I told myself that I wasn’t going to be anything like my family. I was going to be in this by myself.”

This promise was difficult for Campbell to keep. The court took her away from her biological mother when she was about 7 years old and put her into the foster care system. Over the next 10 years, she moved from foster family to foster family and endured all forms of abuse.

“I realized after a while that people don’t really believe you, so you just keep quiet,” says Campbell, who was separated from five other siblings when she, and her younger sister, were placed in foster care.

While Campbell knew that education or learning a skill was the ticket she needed for a better life, there was no one around her who was going to help her make that happen. She remembers a time in high school when she wanted to transfer to a vocational school in Jersey City to learn cosmetology. She left a permission slip for her foster mother to sign. It never happened.

“Education wasn’t important to her.  All she wanted me to do was help her take care of the kids she was watching at home,” says Campbell, who is expected to graduate with a 3.4 grade point average. “Some people just don’t want you to succeed.”

Campbell’s life started to turn around after she aged out of the foster care system. She moved into the home of her then boyfriend’s mother who made calls to the state to find out what funding might be available to help Campbell with the financial aid she needed to go to college.

That was how she discovered Project Myself, a program designed to help young adults aging out of the New Jersey foster care system improve academic performance, complete post-secondary education and develop life skills. The program helped her transition from foster kid to college student.

Life got progressively better. Campbell spent two years at Union County Community College, where she earned her associate's degree in 2016 and acceptance to Rutgers-Newark and the HLLC.  She finally felt she had a place she could call home, food to eat and people around her who wanted her to succeed.

Still, she was always afraid of failure and loss. Two of her brothers died and her sisters were having financial and other struggles. She had 18 nieces and nephews. She worried about their futures.

“I remember hearing the word resilient for the first time when I was in the financial aid office, and I didn’t know what it meant,” says Campbell, who later heard the word again when she decided to study social work. 

“I was told that researchers don’t know what makes people resilient, some people are just strong,” says Campbell. “There was so much alcohol and drug abuse around me that I thought it would be me. I thought I would become a product of what I was around.”

It never happened. Campbell does not smoke, drink or do drugs.  Now when she hears the word resilient, she thinks of herself.

She is involved in honors college activities and volunteers her time at the Essex County LGBT RAIN Foundation (Reaching Adolescents in Need). The nonprofit agency provides emergency shelter services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adolescents.

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When Campbell finishes her education, she would like to operate her own residential facility for abused kids. Giving back and making sure what happened to her does not happen to others is important, she says.

Kha’riah Neal, a sophomore from Newark and student at the HLLC, says if it were not for Campbell she probably would have dropped out last year. She had her bags packed and was ready to call it quits.

“Megan has always been there for me when no one else was,” Neal says. “When I was at my weakest point last semester, she made sure that I got myself together, went to my classes and did my assignments even though it was hard.”

Marta Elena Esquilin, an associate dean at HLLC and an assistant professor in American studies, says Campbell’s willingness to reach out and help others is why she received one of five awards given annually to those graduating from the program who make a difference.

“Her story is remarkable after everything she has been through,” says Esquilin. “Her ability to stay grounded and support her peers so consistently speaks to her deep love of her community and her unrelenting determination of spirit. She will never give up on others because she understands how important it is to get that support.”


Media Contact
Robin Lally