From Foster Care to Full-Ride Scholarship: Keith School Senior Garners Entry into Prestigious Vassar College

ROCKFORD, Ill. – Sean Fisher grew up in a low-income area of Rockford and his early years were impacted by chaos in his home life, leading him and his sister into foster care. Little did he know at the time that fate would intervene to positively impact the rest of his life.

Fisher began attending Keith Country Day School in 2016, when he was 13 and his sister 15, and got to know Keith History Department Chair Kristin Burns during Quiz Bowl, which Burns coached. When the siblings landed in foster care, Burns and her husband, Daniel, immediately took them in. The Burns became the children’s legal guardians in 2018.

“I came from a very hectic lifestyle and the Burns provided us a structured family for the first time,” Fisher said. “In fact, the family mirrored Keith: very organized and caring and accountable. It helped me a lot because although my former life was chaotic, I was doing really well at school and working above my grade level each year.”

In 2020, at the beginning of Fisher’s senior year (he graduates from Keith on June 4), he learned about the QuestBridge National College Match, a program that matches outstanding students with the nation’s best colleges and rewards them with full four-year scholarships. More than 18,500 individuals from across the country apply for the scholarship match (which also includes early admission into their college of choice), and only a small percentage of students receive the opportunity. An aggregated overview of students showed an average GPA of 3.9, rank 87% from the top 10%, and score above 1260 on the SAT or 27 on the ACT. Finalists exhibit outstanding academic achievement and qualify financially.

“I found out I was a finalist at work. I knew the results were coming out, so I kept checking and refreshing my email. I was nervous but confident because I felt my family and Keith had prepared me well,” Fisher said. On the match day, Fisher was taking a study break nap and awoke to a notification that he had matched to Vassar College. His four-year scholarship includes tuition and full room and board.

At Vassar, Fisher will study molecular biology. His aspiration is to one day work for the Centers for Disease Control, ideally in the area of genesplicing.

“Sean’s accomplishments can be tied back to his own perseverance and make-it-happen attitude that is an inspiration to others,” said Charo Chaney, Co-Head of School at Keith. “We’re thrilled to see his determination result in such an exciting and well-deserved opportunity.”

“Sean has come so far since he entered our home in eighth grade. From advanced classes to leadership roles, he has taken advantage of every opportunity provided to him at Keith School,” Kristin Burns said. “Words cannot express how proud I am of Sean for his sheer will, grit, and determination to excel in all that he does.”

Fisher said he found so much structure at both home and Keith and commented on how well it all worked out, providing balance and order in this world. His homelife now, combined with the purposeful small size of Keith School, both provided him inclusiveness, personalized attention, and substance in his life. He also wants to be an inspiration to other youth who may be struggling at home or school and motivate them to keep pursuing what they want and need to move their lives forward.

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