Meet Angel Carroll
This Social Work Junior & Former Foster Child
By: Toni Salama
Is Improving Foster Care in the State of Texas
There was a time when Angel Carroll wanted nothing more to do with social workers or the Texas foster care system. Placed in care at the age of 15, she was sheltered in homes across the state, from Lubbock to Houston. By her 18th birthday, the date when those in foster care must leave the system and support themselves, Carroll had lived in 20 foster and group homes. Often, she felt that she was "just a paycheck" to those placements. And the constant moves wrought havoc on her education: at 17, she was a three-time freshman, never at one high school long enough to complete classes that would have earned her sufficient credits to graduate.
MUCH TO OVERCOME
Her situation was one, she said, that's all too common among foster teens who "age out" of the system. Facing adulthood without a high school diploma and few basic life skills, such individuals are given little hope for a bright future. But Carroll met the challenge with a determination to succeed. She requested to stay in foster placement just a little while longer because she wanted to finish high school.
"I was at the point where it looked like I was just not going to be a high school graduate," Carroll said, "and I told myself, 'No, you're going to do it.'" She took credit by exam and graduated from New Braunfels High School in December 2012, earlier than she would have if she'd earned the credits in the classroom, she said.
"That was a big turnaround for me when I told myself that I can do anything," she said.
Carroll had long known that she wanted to go to college. "I didn't know how or where, but I wanted that to be my in future," she said. So, with hard-won high school diploma in hand, she attended Austin Community College (ACC) in spring 2014, then took a short semester at the University of Texas at Austin before returning to ACC.
During that time she found a support system at Austin Children's Shelter through its Transitional Living Program. "I honestly knew that they wanted me to succeed and become the best that I could be," Carroll said. " Before, the only interactions I had with social workers were brief, and for the most part, dry. But through the interactions I had at ACS, I experienced a level of professionalism that was not only straightforward but caring and genuine, which I had never experienced before." She began to see where she could perhaps make a difference in the lives of others.
"Once I took a step back and looked at my situation, and the good and the bad, I realized there was more bad than good, and I wondered what I could do to make sure that no one else went through the things that I went through," she said. "Things like that drive me."
Her drive put Carroll on the path to another turning point. "I've always known that when I see something wrong, I want to fix it. That's why I decided to go into social work," Carroll said.
ON TO TEXAS TECH
As a foster child, teenager and Austin native, Carroll didn't see a clear path to enrolling in Texas Tech University. "I thought I'd never be here. But now, looking back, I realize that all the roads were pointing to Tech," she said. "And I know that sounds really cliché, but I think it's true."
Three of her teachers from elementary and middle school were enthusiastic Tech alumni, and she still stays in touch with two of them. Their stories of campus life made an impression on her. Another bond was formed during her stay in a Lubbock foster home. "My social worker was like, 'We're going to go visit Tech!' And I was like, 'No, because I want to go to UT, and that's where it's going to be.'"
Carroll's objections melted as soon as they arrived on Texas Tech's 1,839-acre campus of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and expansive green spaces. "I fell in love with it, but I was so young that I couldn't really see the connect, the bridge of me getting here. It was just a cool big campus out in the desert," she said.
Although Carroll had moved around a lot, transferring to Texas Tech in June 2016 definitely took her out of her comfort zone, she said. "I remember crying when I saw the Lubbock City Limits sign."
She needn't have feared. Within the first three months at Tech, Carroll said, so many good things happened. "I'd never been to a school that I felt actually cared about me as a student on so many different levels," she said. The sheer number of people at orientation could have been intimidating, Carroll said, but Adrienne Long, Senior Adviser for Social Work in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Social Work, helped her through. "She came with open arms," Carroll said of Long, "and she definitely had that first imprint on me to love Tech. And that really brought me out of my shell."
In fall 2016, Carroll joined several organizations. "I learned a lot about myself and ended up becoming historian for Tech Student Democrats my first semester. I was a member of Sigma Phi Lambda Christian sorority, and rushed another sorority last spring, Delta Alpha Sigma Multicultural Sorority," she said. Now she is entering her second term as President of the Social Work Student Organization (SWSO). "It has just been great, especially being a part of the Social Work organization and being with other people who have a heart for social work, whether it be to work in hospitals or the foster care system," Carroll said. "I can definitely say I've found my little community."
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
When Carroll was still at ACC, she needed an internship for a Social Work class and, quite naturally, applied to Austin Children's Shelter. They not only hired her as an intern, they asked what sort of job she'd like to do. Carroll had a ready answer.
"That's when I said, OK, it would be cool if there were some kind of resource that was available to foster care kids who age out, because a lot of them don't have the motivation that I know I have," she said. Carroll's research led her to discover the Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA). "But Texas at the time was one of the few states that didn't have (a chapter)," she said.
Soon she was leading focus groups and asking FCAA for advice in getting an Austin chapter off the ground. "We just received a funding grant—$80,600 from Impact Austin—which is one that no one else in Austin has gotten," she said. "Now we've got funding to get the program up and running, and we're in the hiring process. It's really crazy to see that come into fruition."
Seeing the grant come through was another milestone for Carroll. "That was the real moment when I realized the impact I could have," she said. And the world came to her door. Carroll was interviewed by an Austin television station, and Texas Tech filmed an online video about her. "Since then, things have just really opened up for me."
HOW SHE DOES IT
When she isn't absorbed with schoolwork, Carroll enjoys painting and photography, volunteers at Family Promise of Lubbock and lives with two mini-poodles, Lulu and Max. "I actually got them before I was in foster care and have been lucky enough to have people who were willing to hold them while I was away," she said. They've been with her through everything.
Carroll prides herself on being able to get along with people from different backgrounds; she likes having different friend groups but also having time to herself, to refocus on why she's here. "It's fun to have a social life here at Tech, but we are here to get an education," she said. "I think that's what keeps me grounded for the most part."
She uses a planner to manage her time, and recommends staying in close contact with professors and advisers: "Those are the people who will have your back and be a good resource for you."
A FUTURE WIDE OPEN
Approaching life now as a Red Raider and a Social Work junior, Carroll already has received some job offers. That's a comfort, she said, even though she still has a while before she earns her degree. The girl who once was nervous about venturing forth is now a confident 22-year-old who knows where she's going.
For now, Carroll wants to stay in Texas and, once she completes her bachelor's here at Tech, to go on and earn her master's at UT-Austin. "They have a really good joint program with the LBJ School of Policy and Social Work," she said. And after that? "I think if I ever moved out of state, maybe go to D.C. and make some more changes on the national level. But I'm open to anything."
There's no hurry, though, she said. Carroll wants to savor her time at Texas Tech. "I've been served a piece of cake by the president and the provost. At what other university can a student say that's happened to them?"
Coming September 2017: Another Student Feature
July 2017: Angel Carroll, Social Work Junior
|Major: Social Work.|
|Academic status: Undergraduate Junior.|
|Ultimate goal is: to influence legislation in the Texas foster care system.|
|Hails from: Austin.|