Our Students

PUSH students come from varied backgrounds and experiences, but they have one thing in common— their journey to higher education has been marked by challenge. Some PUSH students lack support from their families or do not currently have any supportive adult they can rely upon. For students who need a little extra support, PUSH can make a big difference in whether students continue on their path to higher education.

Here are students who have found success through PUSH in their journey at UNT:

  1. Jackie Davis
  2. Becky Greenhagen
  3. Jose Whitten
  4. Xavier Hicks

Jose Whitten

“I am Jose Whitten. When I was only four years old, I was placed in the custody of state of Texas because my mother abandoned my baby sister, brother and myself at a Houston, Texas Child Protective Services office. My siblings and I were placed into foster care for the next four years. During this time, we were separated from one another and lived in different homes. When I was about seven years old, we were finally placed in a foster home together. It was at this point that I truly realized that I actually had a sister and brother. About a year later, we were adopted into a family that already had seven children. We were so happy to be together, and I still feel today that it was an awesome act on the part of this family to take in the three of us.

My adoptive mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and beat it until 1995, when she became terminally ill; the cancer had spread throughout her whole body. It was around this time that I started to act out because of past abuse issues and the internalized pain I was stuffing inside. My actions led me into serious trouble. I was sent to prison at the age of 15 for robbery. 

While certainly a difficult time, I soon discovered my incarceration was a blessing. This was the time I grew into a man of morals and direction rather than the boy who was lost and hurting. I made up my mind to use my past as an example for other kids to learn from. When I was released from prison, a new life of determination and righting wrongs had begun. So did my college career. The first three years, I spent at Northlake Community College, where I grew in confidence. At Northlake, I was introduced to the TRIO the program and people who helped me very much. After graduating with an associate’s degree, I decided to attend the University of North Texas because it was not far from Dallas and I was told there was a group of people there just like me—alumni of the foster care system, who called themselves PUSH.

Joining PUSH was a Godsend. Our orientation was more like that of a family than a club. We helped each other through our struggles and tried to be there for each other. We also used our past experiences, full of so much pain and hurt, as a way to help other children going through the same thing now. We taught advocates how to advocate! Our focus was on the success of one another’s college career and contradicting the statistics attributed to outcomes for foster care alumni. We encouraged children in foster care and provided support to them while pushing each other to success. I love my PUSH family and would have been lost at UNT without them.”

Becky Greenhagen

“My name is Becky Greenhagen. I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. At the age of nine, I was placed in foster care because of my parents’ serious substance, domestic violence and abusive and neglectful behavior toward my siblings and me. While my siblings found permanent homes, I was never adopted, and I aged out of the foster care system. Before emancipating at 17 years old, I transitioned between 12 different foster care placements.

I have always found contentment within a school environment. I was a good student, and after graduating from high school, I moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, to attend college on a full-ride academic scholarship. However, only three months after I arrived on campus, I withdrew from college because I did not have the support I needed to be successful. I found myself panicked and not sure how I was going to survive. I was without a coat for the winter, no meal plan on the weekends and I was quickly running out of the few supplies I had been given when I headed to college. One day I was sitting in class looking through a magazine and found a postcard for the Navy. I called the recruiter and 10 days later I was in boot camp. My needs were met there, and I proudly served my country from 2002-2005.

After my discharge, I worked for five years just to survive and meet my needs. I knew I wanted to return to college and came to the University of North Texas as a chemistry major in January 2010. It did not take long for me to decide chemistry was not the right choice for me, and after some soul searching, I finally decided to switch my major to social work because I wanted to give back and serve others. Once I started the program, I was asked to join the PUSH student organization. I thought this was a great idea because working with children in foster care is my passion. I had a 10-year plan to write a book in hope that I would be given opportunities to become a motivational speaker, finish my bachelor’s degree and land a job helping foster youth transition out of care. Within one year of being a part of PUSH, I had spoken at multiple conferences and landed a job working with foster youth aging out of care. Now, years later, I can say that I have spoken at many more conferences including a National CASA conference, I have grown at my job working with foster youth, and I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. My journey has not been easy, but well worth it, and I would not have been able to do it without the support, encouragement and confidence that PUSH provided me. Are you willing to PUSH yourself to success?”

Xavier Hicks
UNT PUSH Alumnus

“Before I became a member of PUSH I found it extremely difficult to share my past with anyone. Instead of sharing it with other individuals, I would hide it to avoid being the odd man out. Hiding it seemed easier because I did not have to explain to people why my family looked nothing alike, why my college tuition was paid for by the state, why I did not have a father and other scenarios that foster care alumni experience. Many times I had tried to explain these things to people and they looked at me as if I told them I was an alien. Because of those experiences, a perception was created in my mind that I was different and less than. Living a life in darkness affected me in many ways that I was not aware of. It was not until I became a part of PUSH that I began to overcome so many difficulties that I had been fighting with for years.

PUSH was the most important experience I have had as a man. I cannot explain how much this organization and its members helped me grow personally and professionally. They were there for me like a family in every way possible. I believe that I would not be where I am or who I am if I had not met this group of people. They showed me that I should not be ashamed of my past but rather rejoice in it because of the obstacles I had to overcome. The greatest thing about PUSH is that they accepted me for who I was and never once tried to change me, but instead encouraged me to maximize my potential. I have so much to be thankful for because of this organization and will never forget the change it caused in me.”