Amid all of the usual end-of-the-academic-year excitement taking place at UCLA this month, 120 UCLA students are celebrating the completion of their first year of the CaliforniansforAll College Corps fellowship.
The program, a California Volunteers service initiative run by the office of the governor, supports 3,200 fellows participating from 48 colleges and universities across the state. It is funded by the largest state-level investment in a college service program in California’s history.
The students, each of whom completed 450 service hours over the past year with Los Angeles community-based organizations, were recognized during an on-campus ceremony last month.
“Eighteen months ago, this was just a dream,” Amanda Finzi-Smith, director of the program’s UCLA cohort, said during a keynote at the event. “Now look at us at the end of our first full year. You have gone through the hardest days of your life so far, and you’re thriving.”
College Corps was designed to make college education more affordable for students of color from underrepresented groups. Fellows receive a $7,000 stipend during the academic year, plus a $3,000 scholarship after all service hours are completed.
One of the fellows is Yessenia Sanchez Cruz, who’s completing her second year at UCLA as a political science major. Sanchez Cruz was UCLA’s student ambassador for the program, which meant participating in Zoom calls and in-person events to stay in touch with program staff at the office of the governor. She said it has been a unique opportunity to help define the fledgling program.
Through College Corps, Sanchez Cruz volunteered with Step Up Tutoring, a nonprofit dedicated to closing the educational achievement gap by providing free and accessible tutoring. Sanchez Cruz worked with K-12 students from low-income families. She said she loved seeing the confidence students exuded after breakthroughs in their studies.
“It warmed my heart and opened my mind up to just how important education and being an educator is,” she said.
Khale’ Jackson, a political science major completing his first year at UCLA, had a similar experience. Jackson volunteered at Pasadena City College’s support program for formerly incarcerated students as well as those affected by the incarceration of a close relative or guardian.
“I was able to create a connection with the students in a way in which I understood who they are and their goals,” Jackson said.
Jackson represented UCLA at a Los Angeles River cleanup event for youth service organizations in May; dignitaries like California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass were also on hand. And in the fall, he will begin his Bunche Fellowship, a UCLA program that funds students’ research on the conditions of Black life.
With his first year as a College Corps fellow behind him, Jackson offered advice to the incoming cohort for 2023–24. “I would say give it your all and don't give up,” he said. “Ask questions, and know that you have love and support from those around you.”