Beating the odds: UM-Flint graduate's journey from foster care to commencement

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Two people standing in front of a UM-Flint banner background. Both are in graduation caps and gowns. On the left is Roy Barnes, AODC program director, and on the right is Alizia Hamilton.
Alizia Hamilton (right) graduated from UM-Flint’s AODC programs in April 2023. Here she is pictured with Roy Barnes, professor emeritus of sociology and former AODC director.

According to the National Foster Youth Institute, less than 5% of youth raised in foster care obtain a college degree. So when Alizia Hamilton, who spent a portion of her adolescence in foster care, earned an associate degree while working and raising her own children, it was cause for celebration. And after taking an extended period of time working toward that associate in management, she certainly didn't see herself continuing on to pursue a bachelor's degree. 

"At the time I had sworn that I was just going to be done. I was a mom. I had gone part time for four years and I thought there was no way I was going to continue with higher education. Then I learned about UM-Flint's Accelerated Online Degree Completion programs," Hamilton said. 

The AODC programs at the University of Michigan-Flint were attractive to Hamilton for several reasons. The online courses are offered on an accelerated schedule and are built for working professionals. She saw that the topics covered in those courses were in high demand with employers – things like data analytics, computer programming and digital communication. And after meeting with an AODC advisor, she learned that she could earn a bachelor's much faster than the four years it took her to earn an associate degree. 

And so she did.

Just 13 months after becoming an AODC student, Hamilton graduated with a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies and certificates in data analytics and digital communication. 

Alizia Hamilton standing in the University Pavilion in her graduation regalia.
Hamilton advanced in her career with help from the unique, accessible format of the university's AODC programs.

"I'm the first person in my immediate family to have a degree of any kind. Remembering all of the hard work and late nights, it was a huge accomplishment for me, especially thinking back on the circumstances of my earlier life," said Hamilton. "Even if we take away the career advancement possibilities and marketable skills I've gained, earning a bachelor's degree has given me a huge amount of self-pride."

Hamilton does have new career opportunities to pair with that well-earned sense of pride.While a student she worked as a grants analyst contractor at Kelly Services on assignment to Dow. A bachelor's degree is a prerequisite for direct hire, and Hamilton gaining her degree opens up future hiring opportunities for her. 

The skills Hamilton gained as an AODC student are undoubtedly transferable to her current profession. She said that the "Intro to Programming" course she took was the most challenging of her college career, but it allowed her to provide unique value for her employer. In her former position, she was tasked with analyzing the department's tax exemption process, and according to Hamilton, she was excited to make improvements. The existing process required a high level of manual work and outreach to customers

"I thought this was just a small thing. But my boss thought it was fantastic. He said, 'You may think it's little, but that brought value to our department. It brought value to the customer, and it brought value to the tax department so they can (work more efficiently) in the future,' said Hamilton. "That was such a clear example of learning something in class and implementing it in the real world." 

Between being a mother to two children, a wife and a working professional, Hamilton never thought she would earn a bachelor's degree. UM-Flint made that dream come true. Now, the connections she made as a UM-Flint student may lead her education to another level. After reading Hamilton's capstone project on childcare policy and working mothers, former AODC director Roy Barnes asked if she had ever considered a Master of Public Administration degree. 

"I immediately said 'No, but thank you for the suggestion.' I've already done so much more than what I thought was possible. But now that I've let it simmer, I really could see myself doing that kind of work. Maybe he saw something that I didn't see in myself," Hamilton said. "His suggestion has given me a different view of my future. I could create something in which I can give back to my community and help someone else go forward as I have."

Hamilton is still applying to UM-Flint's MPA program and settling into her new role at Dow. But no matter what the future holds, she values her experience as a UM-Flint student and advocates for others in similar life circumstances to consider AODC for their education. 

"Because of what I've learned in real-world settings, my college experience was even more impactful than if I had graduated at 21 years of age. The AODC programs are special because they are specifically tailored for working adults. AODC acknowledges and values our life experiences. It was a great program and I highly recommend it to everyone."

Applications are always being accepted to UM-Flint's AODC programs, with six start dates throughout the year. More information can be found on the program's webpage.

Logan McGrady is the marketing & digital communication manager for the Office of Marketing and Communication.