Vanessa Morales

Degree: Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education

School: School of Education and Human Development

College: College of Arts, Sciences & Education

School is Vanessa Morales’ safe haven. After her parents divorced, she spent her youth moving from home to home. Not much changed when she enrolled in college. She never really viewed herself as homeless, but by her junior year at FIU, the self-described nomad had run out of places to stay. She was living on campus in her car. When someone called FIU police, Vanessa thought she was in trouble, but the responding officer told her they were going to find her a place to sleep that night.

She was introduced to Ana Ramos, director of Fostering Panther Pride, which supports former foster youth and homeless students at FIU. Vanessa found a place to live and received a tuition waiver. She was able to concentrate on school and became a regular fixture on the dean’s list. She served as the president of the FIU Baptist Collegiate Ministry, and became a Panther Pal Mentor to help others in Fostering Panther Pride. She even went on a mission trip to Haiti, helping rebuild an orphanage destroyed by Hurricane Matthew and working with local schoolchildren there.

This spring, she will graduate with a degree in elementary education, a field she chose because she wants to teach children they have a purpose in life. She has already received three job offers and plans to continue her education at FIU. She hopes to someday open her own learning center for at-risk and foster youth.

By Talia Gonzalez