One-hundred-twenty UCLA undergraduates rose in unison in the Grand Horizon Room at Carnesale Commons, raised their right hands and made a pledge. Repeating words from Gov. Gavin Newsom as he swore in the inaugural class of CaliforniansforAll College Corps Fellows, they collectively promised to help make higher education more accessible, especially to those who have historically been underrepresented on campuses, while engaging students across California to help solve problems in their communities.
“As a CaliforniansforAll College Corps Fellow, I am committed to make change in my community,” they all began as part of the culminating moment of the ceremony which Newsom led via livestream for the 3,200 fellows participating from 48 colleges and universities across the state. “I will serve with humility, compassion, integrity. Faced with apathy, I will take action, Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground. Faced with adversity, I will persevere. I will carry this commitment with me throughout my life. I’m part of a corps connected by a common mission to build a California for all. I am a College Corps fellow and I will get things done.”
And with that moment, the biggest state-level investment in a college service program in California’s history officially got started.
Part of CaliforniansForAll, a California Volunteers service initiative run by the office of the governor, the corps aims to help create debt-free pathways to higher education and promote informed service learning that empowers students to bring what they learn back to their communities.
At UCLA, state funds will be disbursed over the course of four years, helping to make a college education more affordable for underrepresented students of color, further increasing access to a UCLA-quality degree.
“We’re so deeply appreciative of this,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block told Newsom through the livestream. Viewers on the other end could watch a sea of UCLA fellows banging thunder sticks, the UCLA Spirit Squad and Joe Bruin.
Block’s gratitude referred to the $2.55 million grant UCLA received in January to support fellows with $10,000 per academic year, $7,000 in living expenses and a $3,000 one-time scholarship after completing their 450 service hours.
“We are looking forward to having a great year and we appreciate all that you’re doing to make this a successful program,” Block said to the fellows.
In addition to playing an active role in the livestream, an honor extended to just three schools out of the program’s near 50, UCLA represented all of the Southern California schools in the delegation as well as the entire University of California system.
Fellows attending the event at UCLA were given time to network; learn about campus resources from partners such as the financial aid office, undocumented student programs and the library; and hear welcoming remarks from those close to the program like Amanda Finzi-Smith, interim program director of the Black Bruin Resource Center.
“This livestream event wouldn’t be happening if it wasn’t for you guys,” said Finzi-Smith, who led UCLA’s successful effort to secure the CaliforniansForAll grant.
UCLA will be offering 120 fellowships per year for the next four years, and students will have the opportunity to re-apply for the program. Sixty to 75 spots will be set aside specifically for undocumented students; the rest of the slots will be open to Pell Grant recipients. Federal Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate students facing acute financial need.
“You are the first cohort of this incredible college corps program,” said Monroe Gorden Jr., vice chancellor for student affairs and another key player in getting UCLA into the program.
Addressing the room, Gorden commended the fellows for their civic engagement and service to their communities. “You’re role models. You exemplify what it means to be a Bruin,” he said.
After the UCLA speakers, an hour-long livestream included student speeches, a poetry reading, prerecorded student interviews and an a capella performance. Tony Thurmond, California state superintendent of public instruction, and Josh Fryday, California's chief service officer, also spoke.
“I’ve had this on my calendar for months now,” said UCLA transfer student Catherine Cueva, who applied to the fellowship to continue her volunteer work in food security.
Cueva, who is majoring in political science with a double minor in Chicana/o and Central American studies and public affairs, will be working at one of the 600 corps service cites supporting areas like education, sustainability and food security for vulnerable populations.
Other UCLA fellows shared that enthusiasm as well.
“It’s a blessing to be a part of something in which I can say ‘I serve for my state, California,’” said Khale’ Jackson, a first-year student who is already two weeks into serving at Pasadena City College’s support program for formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students.
Jackson, a political science major with a concentration in race and ethnic studies, said he’s learned a lot from working with staff members and mentoring students who are trying to do better in life. He said the swearing-in ceremony felt almost like a presidential inauguration.
“Though I may not hold political office, though I might not work at the capital, just being here at UCLA and just being able to serve my state and my community, it’s a big deal for me,” Jackon said.