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President’s Scholarship awarded to five Oakland students

Nothing has the power to change a person’s life like education. A college education opens up access to the world, to other people, to opportunities, and to new and expanded ways of thinking. It’s a ticket to almost endless possibilities.

But getting one of those admission tickets isn’t easy. Besides the hard academic work, there’s the finances. And equally important is the encouragement and support needed to take what can be an enormous step: To be the first person in your family to go to college, to leave home and and friends for an unfamiliar place, and to volunteer for bigger challenges than you’ve faced before.

It’s with those needs in mind that the President’s Scholarship was created in partnership with the East Bay College Fund (EBCF). The program bestows a four-year award worth a total of $16,000 (distributed each quarter/semester) to a select group of Oakland high school seniors who will be attending UC. To ensure the students’ success, EBCF incorporates all recipients into its mentorship program (which UCOP staff is invited to participate in).

On Friday, Aug. 5, President Napolitano celebrated this year’s five recipients at a special lunch also attended by UC staff and community leaders involved in the program, as well as family members. After receiving congratulations on their achievements, the scholars were asked to share their concerns, which included the usual fear of academic rigor. President Napolitano sympathized, talking about the shock of finding out that what had been “A” work in high school didn’t pass muster in college, but she also reassured them that the university is “an environment of opportunity and challenge — and fun.” Confessing that she didn’t settle on a major until late in her college career, she encouraged them to explore and experiment in their studies because “you might find a new passion.”

Other guests at the lunch emphasized the support that UC provides. “You are not alone — you are part of the UC family now,” said Jerlena Griffin-Desta, deputy to the vice president of student affairs. This sentiment was underlined by David Silver, education director in the Oakland mayor’s office, who urged them to not only “dig deep” when challenged at college but to be sure to seek out support. “There are people right now at all your schools who are ready to help you.” Scholarship recipient Jared Utley agreed, saying that he felt much more prepared and confident after attending the Summer Bridge program that UC Berkeley offers.

Help is something that these scholars are more accustomed to offering rather than receiving, given that all recipients of this award must have a strong record of public service and a continued desire to help their communities. Utley applauded this requirement. “What I appreciate…is that the program is recognizing student leaders within the Oakland community. This award makes me feel like all of the hard work was worth it.” Planning to work in education himself, Utley wants to bring about reform so that “there aren’t any barriers for students to learn” and the educational system serves as a “means of liberation” for students. To achieve his goal, he plans to “soak up every bit of information at UC Berkeley…to better serve my community.”

Scholarship winner Mey, whose parents are refugees from Cambodia, also wants to use his UC education “to give back to my community by working in economic planning for the government. I first want to start in Oakland, my hometown, but eventually make my way up to state and federal planning as well. This will allow me to work for the rights of lower income families on a much larger scale. This is to ensure these people have resources needed available to them and make sure more stories like mine are told.”

After complimenting them on their service, Diane Dodge, president of the East Bay College Fund, told the students that it was now time to focus on themselves, “You doing your best in college is helping your community.” Along with excitement and a sense of honor, both the award and lunch bestowed something essential for that to happen: confidence. As Lucas Pablo said, “I know this is the first step to my success and whenever I want to give up, I know there are going to be people to help me keep going and finish.”


The five 2016 President’s Scholarship program recipients:

Brandon Mey (unable to attend lunch)
Major and campus: Economics at UC Santa Barbara
Attended Skyline High
Service: President of Skyline’s Interact club, led weekly meetings and planned weekend community service projects including to combat homelessness and human trafficking. Caretaker of refugee family members suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Laura Lucas Pablo
Major and campus: Latin American Studies at UC Davis
Attended Fremont High
Service: Having immigrated here just five years ago, she is active in Newcomer Leadership, a program that helps promote the safety of recently arrived immigrants. Participated in creating a short film about bullying and discrimination against newcomer students.

Jared Utley
Major and campus: Psychology and education at UC Berkeley
Attended McClymonds High
Service: Member of the executive team for Alternatives In Action whose job is to co-create and co-facilitate after-school programs on site at McClymonds High School. Facilitates and teaches a studio class for Legacy Studios. Member of the Planning & Oversight Committee for the Oakland Fund for City Youth, which allocates $13.5 million to Oakland’s youth. Also a part of the African American Male Achievement (AAMA) Student Leadership Council.

Destiny Dunwood
Major and campus: Education at UC Merced
Attended Oakland High
Service: Active with Build On, working on local clean-ups, food banks and the Uhuru market stand. Served as a College Track summer mentor to younger students. Secretary of the Latinos Unidos club.

Diego Hernandez
Major and campus: Art and Computer Science at UC Santa Cruz
Attended Oakland International High School
Service: Having immigrated from El Salvador just three years ago, he actively helps his fellow classmates improve their English speaking and writing abilities. Participates in Youth VOICE, music club and basketball. Wants to start a program to support kids in El Salvador to go to college.



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