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Fostering community action

Life experiences, CSSH faculty helped alum build award-winning non-profit
March 1st, 2013

This past year, criminal justice major Marquis Cabrera (’11) earned high praise for his efforts to build Foster Skills, a skills-focused nonprofit he founded in 2010 to “empower foster children to beat the urgent odds, follow their dreams, and become successful, productive citizens.” As CEO of Foster Skills, Cabrera spearheaded its rapid growth by forging 23 partnerships with organizations, including Northeastern, and mobilized 51 committed student volunteers to serve over 270 at-risk foster children in the promotion of life and career skills. For these successes, Cabrera was showered with awards from the Massachusetts Nonprofit Networks, State Treasurer Steve Grossman and, most recently, the Case Foundation and Microsoft. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino also presented him with a Certificate of Recognition.

“It is extremely humbling, but I am only one person who leads the charge,” Cabrera says about the recognition. “My senior leadership team and volunteers are amazing.”

A product of the foster system himself, Cabrera has overcome amazing obstacles in launching his own impressive career (less than two percent of foster youth graduate from college, according to the Emancipating Youth Literature Review). Removed from a neglectful home at age seven, Cabrera bounced between three homes in eight years before landing in a stable environment in upstate New York where he thrived in academics but still struggled with behavioral issues. Tired of disappointing his foster parents, he channeled his energy into constructive activities in high school including math team and software design; he was elected vice president of student council and a cadet commanding officer in JROTC. Cabrera turned down opportunities to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy and the University of Pennsylvania. He ultimately chose Northeastern because he always wanted to be an attorney and was “impressed with the caliber of the criminal justice faculty, including [Chief Justice] Roderick Ireland, Dr. James Fox, and Dr. Donna Bishop.”

Once enrolled, Cabrera benefited from courses with professor Greg Goodale and Bishop, whom he describes as a “jewel that this University must hold on to.” He sings Bishop’s praises as “hands-down the best practitioner and professor I have had at NU… she understands the practical ramifications of research [on juvenile justice and youth policy] and is engaged in real-world activities in her field.”

Cabrera was the first intern to clerk for Massachusetts Super Lawyer, professor and alumna Krista Larsen while taking a full course load. Cabrera took his classroom knowledge to the real world with co-ops at City Year—an education focused nonprofit founded by two Harvard Law School grads—the White House, the Massachusetts Appeals and Supreme Judicial Courts, and Wayfair, gaining valuable experience as a public relations intern, legal assistant, and consultant. Cabrera turned down internships with top consultancies to join the inaugural class of White House interns under President Obama.

“I didn’t have a large office or a fancy title, but I know that my work made a difference,” says Cabrera.

And while at City Year, he learned that “people must be selfless in order to advance their societies; the socially minded and fortunate must be willing to share their time.”

While Cabrera’s upbringing inspired him to create Foster Skills and help children facing challenges that he was able to overcome, he attributes many of the career skills he learned to his time at Northeastern, both in the classroom and in the workplace.

“I learned to write well, analytical thinking, and build consensus while at Northeastern,” reflects Cabrera. “Those qualities surely help me to develop and grow Foster Skills.”

When asked what advice he would give to Northeastern students considering a major in his field, Cabrera believes they should engage with other disciplines and maximize available resources at the university.

“Talk to engineering professors about how to engineer new [criminal justice] technologies. Talk with science professors about how science affects [criminal justice], and much more. Go beyond what’s taught in a classroom setting to learn more.”

Northeastern has provided fertile ground for Foster Skills, which is staffed by several Northeastern graduates and whose Advisory Council consists of Northeastern professors Bishop, Goodale, and Elise Dallimore. Cabrera recruited a number of his staff members from two organizations he pioneered, Northeastern’s Pre-Law Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta and The Boston Dialectical Society.

Beyond his efforts at Foster Skills to help foster youth gain more access to college and opportunities in the workforce, Cabrera intends to pursue a JD/MBA.

To learn more about Marquis Cabrera’s remarkable story, check out the links below.

news@Northeastern article (July 12, 2011)

Northeastern Her Campus article (Oct. 11, 2011)

Reuters article; containing his speech at Opportunity Nation (Nov. 9, 2011)

White House website article (Aug. 27, 2012)

Boston Globe article (Dec. 11, 2012)

The Microsoft YouthSpark Award

By Burleigh Hendrickson


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