Business student inspired to provide support services for former foster kids
As she glides through campus on a skateboard with a beanie on her head and tattooed arm held out for balance, Rachel Millea is unlikely to be pegged as an undergraduate business student majoring in management.
Yet once she reveals her ultimate goal, it seems the perfect fit.
“I want to run a nonprofit transition center that provides support for kids once they age out of foster care,” said the 24-year-old OSU-Tulsa student. “When they turn 18 and get out, they can learn to pay bills, how to drive and how to get a job. They don’t just get cut loose on the street.”
The management degree will help her with the business side of running a nonprofit, particularly the nonprofit management course she plans to take this fall. She intends to pursue a master’s degree in social work later to round out her education.
Millea’s desire to help former foster kids was sparked when, as a high school student, she volunteered during the summer to work with youth in state care at the Second Chance Youth Ranch in Bryant, Arkansas.
That experience opened her eyes to the lack of support services available to young people who age out of the system.
“I had three friends in the program who aged out,” Millea said. “One died, one went into the military and another is in prison. Two of them went back to the only thing they’d ever known, like getting involved in drugs and bad situations.”
College wasn't in the plan
Like many of her peers in foster care, she never thought she would go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree.
“I was your typical punk kid in high school. I was just the ‘goth emo’ kid in the back of the room that nobody paid any attention to,” Millea said. “Nobody else in my family has gone to college. I’m the first.”
She joined the U.S. Army after high school and drove giant cargo trucks as part of the ’88 Mike’ unit for 1½ years.
Just before she was set to deploy to Djibouti, Africa, she was injured and honorably discharged.
“It was a bittersweet thing to get out of the Army,” she said. But veterans’ benefits opened the door to a college education.
After transferring to OSU-Tulsa from Tulsa Community College, Millea has her sights set on achievement.
She is a member of the President’s Leadership Society, an invitation-only group of high-achieving OSU-Tulsa students.
Through PLS, she has gained a mentor in Susan Crenshaw, ONEOK executive and OSU-Tulsa graduate. She continually seeks out connections with other professionals and opportunities to learn from others’ experiences.
“It helps to be around people who are successful and to hear their stories. It makes it seem like not such a foreign thing, that I can do it too,” Millea said.
Purpose honed by personal challenges
Having dealt with depression and anxiety most of her life, she feels particular empathy for foster kids after they age out of the system and can relate to their struggles.
This summer, she has an internship with Family & Children’s Services of Tulsa and has decided to use her story to help others – even if some might feel uncomfortable.
“The more I work with people in the community, the more I realize that awareness is more important than perception,” she said. “I think my experience with mental health issues will enable me to help others even more.”
Like the support system she hopes to create for former foster kids, Millea has found her own at OSU-Tulsa.
“It might sound cheesy but my family here at OSU-Tulsa met me where I was. Never once was I met with judgment,” Millea said. “It has always been, ‘Your goals are possible. How can we help you reach them?’ My dreams are actually becoming reality because OSU-Tulsa believed in me and helped instill that belief in myself.”