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Michael Kelly

Reaching for the stars: Education and Training Voucher Program helps former foster youth achieve new heights

Michael Kelly isn’t letting his past get in the way of his future. In foster care from age 15 to 21, when he aged out of care, he said, “The stigma of being a foster child was—and may always be—a hurdle to overcome, but I refuse to let the past define my future, and I encourage all foster youth to have the same mindset. Life as a foster child can be tough, lonely and unfair, but I found that there are many good people out there willing to help.”

Some of those good people have been staff from the Minnesota Department of Human Services Education and Training Voucher (ETV) Program. A program that grants up to $5,000 per school year to students, Kelly received an ETV voucher throughout his undergraduate college years to help pay for books, tuition, a computer and a medical school application test to help him continue his education. “I am so grateful for the program,” he said. “ETV has been one of the most valuable funding sources for me as an alum foster child, first-generation college student. ETV staff have been absolutely supportive of my educational endeavors – making sure that I have the materials I need to succeed.”

Since becoming part of the ETV program, Kelly’s successes have been numerous. He was the first student to graduate with a specialized neuroscience degree from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and spent summers researching tuberculosis and Alzheimer’s disease in China and Costa Rica, as well as leading a research project at an emergency department in St. Cloud, Minnesota and conducted service work in the Dominican Republic. In July 2021, Kelly was accepted into University of Minnesota Medical School where he’s pursuing his dream of becoming a doctor.

Even with the time constraints of his medical education, Kelly continues to be a staunch advocate for youth in the foster care system and directly credits his own experiences in foster care for helping him get to where he is today. “Foster care enabled me to see the world with a unique perspective,” he said. “It taught me self-determination, empathy and left me conscientious towards others’ hidden battles and needs.”

Photo of Michael Kelly
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