The UCI Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, Division of Undergraduate Education, and Student Success Initiatives are excited to announce that University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) student Carolina Llerenas has been selected for this year’s Regents Foster Youth Award! This honor recognizes Carolina’s history in the foster care system and celebrates her academic excellence and dedication to serving the community.

About the Award

The Regents Foster Youth Award seeks to honor and celebrate the academic achievements and community service of University of California (UC) students who are current or former foster youth.  This award also promotes visibility of the unique barriers that current and former foster youth face in their pursuit of academic success. 

To be eligible for the Regents Foster Youth Award, a student must be a current or former foster youth enrolled as a full-time undergraduate, graduate, or professional student in good academic and disciplinary standing at one of the ten UC campuses. Students are nominated by another UC student, staff member, or faculty member and are selected by the Regents Foster Youth Award Selection Committee, which consists of individual Regents and staff from the UC Office of the President. The Selection Committee evaluates nominees based on the following criteria:

  • Demonstrated academic excellence or significant improvement in academic performance
  • Engagement in local, state, or national community service and/or advocacy efforts
  • Facilitation of activities or programs that enhanced the undergraduate, graduate, or professional student experience on campus
  • Demonstrated excellence in helping the University fulfill its mission of teaching, research, and community service
  • Positive impact in support of current or former foster youth at UC (either at a specific campus or more broadly)

Carolina was selected as this year’s recipient by the Chair of the Board of Regents at the UC Regents meeting in July 2023. To commemorate her achievement, she received an award of $1,000, a framed certificate of honor, and an invitation to attend a social networking event with members of the Board of Regents.

About Carolina 

Carolina is a third-year psychology major who has been in the foster care system since age ten. Carolina is a passionate supporter of the foster care community at both UC Irvine and beyond. On campus, she serves as a Peer Mentor for the UCI Foster Youth Resilience in Education (FYRE) Scholars Program. The FYRE Scholars Program provides support to current and former foster youth attending UC Irvine by creating a community of peers and offering opportunities for participants to develop the skills necessary for academic and post-graduation success. As a Peer Mentor, Carolina works with FYRE Scholars to monitor their academic progress and connect them with any resources they may need. She also collaborates with her fellow Peer Mentors to develop engaging programming and events to encourage community-building amongst the scholars. 

In May of 2023, Carolina led UC Irvine’s Foster Care Awareness Month Campaign, which engaged the campus community and increased visibility for foster care issues. To close out the month, she also organized the Bowling Social to celebrate the accomplishments and resilience of UC Irvine’s FYRE Scholars. Throughout the campaign events, Carolina made it a priority to connect with students and encourage them to meet and build networks of support. Her dedication, passion, and welcoming personality have made a huge difference for the program, which has seen an increase in student participation in social events, programming, and workshops thanks to her influence.

Her passion for empowering the foster care community also shines outside of UC Irvine. Since 2020, Carolina has spent her summers volunteering at Happy Trails for Kids Camp, an organization that provides overnight camping experiences for children in the foster care system. As a camp counselor, Carolina works with younger campers and helps create a positive and memorable camp experience for them. She also shared her story at the Happy Trails for Kids Camp fundraiser to encourage donors to recognize the importance of funding these opportunities for young children in foster care. Her support has helped the organization raise over $300,000. 

In addition to her involvement with organizations dedicated to serving the foster care community, Carolina is also an active member of the UC Irvine sorority Sigma Pi Alpha, a Chicana/Latina organization that aims to empower women from various cultures. She is active in their social and philanthropic events and is passionate about the sorority’s main goal of promoting higher education. 

Once she graduates, Carolina plans to continue working with children, specifically foster youth. She hopes to get a job at Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Courthouse in Monterey Park, California, and utilize her personal experience and psychology training to provide counseling services to both children and parents.

Acknowledgments and Congratulations

“Carolina is deserving of this award because she is the embodiment of resilience and commitment to the community,” said Martha Contreras, Counselor/Coordinator for UCI FYRE Scholars and Carolina’s nominator for the award. She continued, “Across the board, only 4% of former foster youth graduate college with their bachelor’s degree, and Carolina is working incredibly hard to beat those odds and to support former foster youth along the way. Without familial support, many foster youths may think a college degree is out of their reach. But Carolina’s story is proof that there are students who have been through the foster care system and who are finding success in college ”

Joanna Hernandez, Director of UCI Student Success Initiatives and the Transfer Student Center, added:

“I am thrilled that Carolina has been selected as the recipient of the highly esteemed UCOP Regents Foster Youth Award. Carolina is a remarkable student scholar who has demonstrated exceptional resilience and perseverance in overcoming numerous challenges, allowing her to thrive academically. Her journey serves as a powerful testament to the strength of the human spirit, and we are immensely proud of her accomplishments.

Winning this prestigious award is a tremendous honor, not only for Carolina but also for the entire UC Irvine community. It reflects our university’s commitment to fostering an environment of support and inclusivity for all students. Carolina’s achievement serves as an inspiration to her peers and serves to highlight the exceptional caliber of students we have at UC Irvine.”

For Carolina, receiving this year’s Regents Foster Youth Award provides a welcome source of assistance as she continues her academic journey. “Winning this award means opportunity and hope for my future,” she explained. “This grant provides comfort and security in knowing that I have funds to help me cover the cost of my next meal, bills, or materials to further my education.”

She also expressed her pride in bringing attention to and representing the foster youth community:

“Being in the foster care system can be a very disconcerting experience. Moving from house to house, adjusting to different people from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, all while trying to heal from your own trauma, is difficult. However, this experience brings out a warrior in each and every one of us, and with the right support system, we can conquer anything. When we come together, we uplift and empower each other like family knowing that we have all walked a very similar path. The love I receive from the foster youth community is truly indescribable, and I am more than proud to represent this community.”

Please join us in congratulating Carolina for winning the 2023 Regents Foster Youth Award. For more information about resources for current/former foster youth, visit the UCI FYRE Scholars Program website or the UCI Student Success Initiatives website.