Andrew Gibbs wanted to go to USC since he was a kid – and he’s been working toward a scholarship since he was in sixth grade.
“I’m a huge football fan and thought the school was awesome,” Gibbs said. “I really wanted to come here.”
Gibbs, now a sophomore, is an alumnus of the Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), a USC program that works with middle and high school students at James A. Foshay Learning Center and Manual Arts High School to develop the academic skills needed to succeed in college.
It’s an intense program – participants work in sessions before school, receive after-school tutoring and attend class for four hours each Saturday morning. Those who graduate from the program see their hard work pay off: Graduates have been accepted at competitive universities including USC, Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, the University of California, Berkeley, UCLA, Vassar College and Boston University.
Those who attend USC receive nine-semester scholarships. All NAI students who enroll at USC also become part of the Undergraduate Success Program, a division of the Center for Academic Support that offers assistance and guidance to NAI scholars as they embark on college life.
“We try to be that one stop that makes the university seem more manageable,” said Abi Ingleton, director of the Undergraduate Success Program.
The program provides everything from one-on-one meetings to group programs and annual events, but the biggest assistance it provides, students said, is serving as a source of support for any issues that arise.
“It’s not just for academics – it’s for everything,” Gibbs said. “The extra emotional support also affects the academics and helps you stay on your game.”
Part of the idea behind the Undergraduate Success Program, Ingleton said, was to ensure that NAI graduates – although they grew up in the area surrounding the university – received support during their transition from high school to college. There was a misconception that these students would not have problems, Ingleton said, but that wasn’t the case.
Since the first class of NAI scholars came to USC in 1997, the Undergraduate Success Program has worked with 236 students, including the 84 undergraduate and five graduate students currently involved in the program. These students have had an 80 percent graduation rate, and 120 undergraduate and 10 graduate degrees have been awarded since 1997.
NAI graduates continue to give back to the program and act as role models, tutoring and teaching younger students after school and on Saturdays.
“I really want them to come here, but it’s always up to them if they do,” Gibbs said. “I keep telling them not to give up. It’s a lot of time and hard work, but it’s worth it.”
Elvira Clemente, a junior fine arts major, added, “My little sister and her friends are in the program and it’s fun because it makes them think, ‘Oh, she did it, we can do it, too.’ It gives them the confidence to do well.”
Although the Undergraduate Success Program helps students, Ingleton noted that the work of the students themselves resulted in their achievements.