Scholar Stories

President Dunn and Michael Fombang

Michael Fombang - First Seita Scholar to Graduate

Michael Fombang was just 12 years old and had been orphaned by war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when he fled the country in 2001 and began to work on freighters that traveled the world.

In 2005, when one of these ships docked in the Great Lakes Michael was detained by US immigration authorities. He was classified as a stowaway and inadmissible to the US except to pursue asylum status.

While his asylum petition was pending, Michael, still a minor at 16, was placed in foster care in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His foster family welcomed him into their home and provided resources and encouragement.

Soon Michael learned English and earned his high school diploma. An aspiring doctor, he enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College, where his passion to succeed won over teachers and administrators. Sadly, Michael’s immigration status kept him from working or applying for student loans and scholarships, and medical school seemed a distant dream.

After waiting two years for US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to act on his case, Michael’s foster family asked Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) for help in 2007. The JFON attorney made a successful legal argument that got the stowaway provision waived on humanitarian grounds and Michael qualified for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). JFON then spent more than a year preparing his asylum package. Finally, in 2008, his SIJS application was approved and his status adjusted to Legal Permanent Resident.

With this status Michael could receive the financial aid and scholarships he needed to pursue his education. He later graduated from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences. He hopes soon to pass the Medical College Admission Test and apply to medical school.

Michael is so grateful to the many people who have helped him get to where he is today that now he feels it is his turn to give back.

The following article appeared in the May 1, 2010 edition of the Detroit Free Press.

From Foster Care to Med School
Lori Higgins, Free Press Education Writer

Michael Fombang is grateful for the sponsor who paid for his education at Grand Valley Community College, and for a scholarship program at Western Michigan, which paid for his tuition and fees.

Now it's his turn, he says. He graduated [in May 2010] from WMU with a bachelor's degree in biomedical sciences. Within a year, Fombang said he hopes to pass the exam required to gain entry into medical school. He eventually wants to become a doctor.

"I have the need to help. I want to give back. I've been given a lot," Fombang said.

Fombang, 21, is the first graduate of WMU's Seita program. The program enrolls 74 students, most of them former foster care youths. About 20% are students like Fombang, who came to the U.S. as refugees.

Fombang is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and he came to the U.S. five years ago, living with a foster family in Grand Rapids. He's heading to Chicago after graduation to take a summer job. He'll also be studying for the Medical College Admission Test. He'd like to become a surgeon, but says it's possible that exposure to other specialties in medical school might turn him on to a new medical passion.

One thing that won't change is his mission to give back.

"I don't want to disappoint."


Foster Youth and Higher Education Initiative
Seita Scholars Program
Faunce Student Services, Room 1111
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5302 USA
(269) 387-8362 | (269) 387-8360 Fax


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