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Lee Ann Phillips

Degree: Master of Social Work

What's next: Work with youth in foster care as a PSU research associate

Growing up in Illinois, Lee Ann Phillips saw first hand how tough it is for youth in foster care. She had two foster sisters who were cut off from the system after turning 18 and were never encouraged to go to college.

As a student in Portland State University's Master of Social Work program, she is working to make that transition to adulthood a little easier for Oregon's teen-agers in foster care, because so many of them are at-risk for becoming homeless. Phillips always wanted to go into social services, but she didn't go to college herself until she was 46.

She saved for years while she managed Chez Panisse, a popular restaurant in Berkeley, California. When she decided it was time to use her management skills to help children, she sold her house and enrolled as an undergraduate at Portland State, where she learned more about gaps in the foster care system.

After graduation, Phillips will lead two PSU research projects that empower teenagers in foster care to make more of their own decisions and get a college degree. Someday, she'd like to change the system on a national level.

She's well on her way.

"The more youth that come through that system, find a voice and talk—they can help make that system change," she says.