NAI, creative writing inspire a Trojan
When Jasmine Torres was 13 years old and homeless on Christmas Day, for inspiration she turned to her dream of attending USC.
As a student in middle school at the time, Torres was accepted into the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), a six-year pre-college enrichment program designed to prepare low-income neighborhood students for success at a university.
Those who complete the program and meet USC’s admission requirements are rewarded with a full financial package covering four-and-a-half years.
“When I found out in the fifth grade that I was nominated to be a part of NAI, I felt like I held my entire future in my little hands and that all I had to do was not let go of it,” said Torres, now 18. “I felt honored that I was chosen, and it made me feel like I belonged at USC.“
But that dream was deferred when Torres was forced to drop out of NAI because she had to transfer from Foshay Learning Center to Joseph Le Conte Middle School – which does not take part in the NAI – in order to stay in the group home where she was assigned.
Not to be defeated, Torres became determined. Given a road map to college, she continued the journey on her own.
“On that day, I promised myself that, NAI scholarship or not, I was going to find a way to USC and graduate with my degree,” she said.
Two additional factors motivated her: a love for creative writing and a desire to change the foster care system.
“When I felt I had nothing, I knew I had my thoughts, my words and my feelings, and I was able to use them to create meaningful poems and short stories,” Torres said. “My writing has been an escape from so many of the things I have experienced because I was able to validate my own emotions by writing them down.”
Pushing forward, Torres excelled in high school, graduated in three years and applied to USC.
“The day I opened my USC acceptance letter at my group home, I fell to my knees and cried,” she recalled. “Even if I had not been accepted, I would have still forever been thankful to USC because the thought of one day being able to apply to this prestigious university kept me going every day.”
Thanks to various grants and a scholarship from the USC Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, Torres now is a sophomore majoring in sociology.
She was named an Opportunity Nation Scholar by the Opportunity Nation Leaders program, a national organization of nearly 200 businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions and military organizations with a goal of creating a bipartisan plan to create better jobs and communities throughout the United States.
Torres recently traveled to New York City, where she sat on the organization’s panel “From Access to Completion: Starting Early, Staying in School and Earning a Credential.”
“I used the opportunity to give foster youth a voice since often they are most vulnerable to fall through the cracks,” Torres said. “I encouraged the audience to find out more about foster youth in their city or state since less than 3 percent of foster youth get a bachelor’s degree.”
George Sanchez, vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, has been a mentor to Torres.
“Rarely have I been so impressed with the poise and intellect of an 18-year-old student,” Sanchez said. “Her intellectual work, compassion for others and for creating open pathways to success in education and the economy are admirable.”
Torres promises to change the foster care system, which she said is “delicate and broken.”
As a USC McNair Scholar, this summer she will conduct research on how gender and ethnicity affect educational attainment among foster youth in Los Angeles.
“I want to help create an effective solution that improves the system by giving youth a voice and a genuine chance to succeed. I am excited to research this topic.”