More than 23,000 age out of the nation’s foster system annually—less than 3 percent of whom will earn a college degree in their lifetime. This is one of four profiles celebrating students in the Promoting Achievement Through Hope (PATH) Scholars program, each of whom is reversing that narrative with the support of staff and their peers. All of the profiles can be accessed in our introductory story.
Rodaisha James keeps the photo close.
It captures a moment in time with her mother, sharing Rodaisha’s smile, wearing comfortable maternity attire, and
a half-up, half-down hairstyle with side bangs evocative of the mid- to late-1990s. Through the photo, Rodaisha hears her mother’s voice and she feels a mix of emotions—longing, awe, and curiosity combined with serenity and acceptance.
Each glimpse at the photo motivates Rodaisha to remain steadfast toward her dream to earn her degree and build a bright future.
“College has been in the works with me since middle school,” Rodaisha said. “My mother instilled in my younger sister and me that education was the key.”
This month, the first-generation college student will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in both Asian studies and business administration with an emphasis in project management. Earning not one but two college degrees is perhaps the best way, she said, to honor her mother’s wishes.
Having already lost her father when she was 7 years old, Rodaisha was a 15-year-old high school sophomore when her mother passed away. Suddenly orphaned, her grandparents and one of her aunts became the legal guardians for her and her sister.
Because of the guardianship status, Rodaisha qualified for College Track, a targeted program aimed to help guide underserved youth in the Bay Area from junior high school through earning their undergraduate degree. Providing comprehensive academic, financial, and social-emotional programming, the program works to remove barriers to college completion.
Rodaisha was introduced to higher education programs around the state with services for incoming students under guardianship. While awaiting word from UC Berkeley admissions, she looked into Chico State—visiting campus and meeting with PATH Scholars, including program coordinator Marina Lomeli.
“I felt a sense of belonging and comfort when I visited, so by the time I heard from Berkeley, Chico State checked all the boxes and PATH Scholars was the cherry on top,” Rodaisha said.
Lomeli helped smooth Rodaisha’s transition by introducing resources across campus and providing reminders about housing, financial aid, and intent-to-enroll dates and deadlines. Always available for encouragement, she also has been a support system and confidant—exactly the type of relationship Rodaisha needed entering college.
“A lot of students have access to that kind of support because their parents are active in their lives—I didn’t have my parents, so Marina’s mentorship means everything to me,” she said. “She is family.”
Rodaisha initially began in the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management, but she struggled in her STEM classes. However, she thrived in her business minor and decided to change focus.
She started to blossom academically and became more involved in student organizations like Just Unity Sistas, the Association for Women in Business, and First Generation and Proud, while also holding leadership positions for Chico State’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers for three years.
Additionally, constant support from PATH Scholars opened the door for her to pursue other goals, like studying abroad. Following a pandemic-shortened 2019–20 academic year at Shanghai University in which she was forced to return to Chico to finish her classes virtually, Rodaisha spent fall 2021 at Alabama State University in a special program providing immersive experiences at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Together, she said the experiences have given her a wider perspective of her place in the world.
“I try to remember the ways we connect rather than the ways we do not—being a global citizen to me is about remembering my impact and remembering the collective, the world,” she said. “I am not just an American citizen. I am also a citizen of the world, and I feel led to do my part in helping make it better one interaction at a time, starting with my own inner work.”
Once the pandemic hit, Rodaisha drew back from her many activities to take care of herself. She continued using the WellCat Counseling Center, which she had been utilizing since her first year, and entered her second year in a women’s wellness group for students.
“I invested more time in building my professional network, receiving mentorship, and tending to my mental health,” she said.
Rodaisha has already secured a full-time job after graduation as a project manager at ServiceNow, a software company based in Santa Clara. While she is looking forward to experiencing tech and its innovative culture, she also knows she is paving the way for other African American women in a traditionally male-dominated space.
“I’ve felt self-doubt and imposter syndrome at all points during college, but I am breaking new ground and embarking on uncharted territory,” she said. “It has not been easy, but it has been very rewarding.”
Before wrapping up a few final classes this academic year, she walked in the 2021 Commencement ceremonies.
“I lost my breath a little bit thinking, ‘Wow, this is happening.’ In seconds I went from extreme happiness to tears pouring down. All the emotions hit at once,” she said. “I was so happy, but I also felt the grief in realizing that I wasn’t celebrating with my parents. Having my sister, stepfather, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents there to celebrate made me feel really special.”
As she achieves what her mother always hoped for her, she could not be more proud.“
I think she would be so moved by her baby girl, her first-born,” she said. “She would encourage me to take time to honor myself and my accomplishments, to realize what it took for me to get here, to notice the effort I’ve put in—I think she would be happy with the woman who would stand before her.”
The odds are stacked against them. Show PATH Scholars students you believe in their educational dreams and ensure they have the resources to achieve them by making a gift today at www.csuchico.edu/fosteryouth.