Born and raised in South Los Angeles — just a couple of miles from USC — Jaime Carias MPP ’10 dreamed of one day being a student at the university.
As a civic engagement coordinator at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, he now organizes trips to Wallis Annenberg Hall for disadvantaged youth.
The author of two books who earned a master’s degree at the USC Price School of Public Policy, Carias talks about how he got into community engagement.
Tell us about your work at USC Annenberg.
We have worked with over 13 high schools since we’ve been here. Last year, we had over 550 youth walks through Annenberg’s doors for some type of program. That’s really my day-to-day. I also represent Annenberg in the community and build relationships and strategic partnerships that are going to allow Annenberg and USC to move forward.
How did you start working with high school students?
What made me get into community programming was the realization when I arrived as a freshman at UC Santa Barbara that there weren’t that many people who came from the same background as me. I started grassroots organizing as an 18-year-old, bringing busloads of high school kids to UCSB from South L.A. for campus tours. At the age of 20, I wrote my first grant for $5,000 to launch “From the Barrio to Academia.” That program was dedicated to bringing the sons and daughters of UCSB’s janitors to campus. None of their kids had ever set foot on campus.
I worked as an admission counselor intern at UC Santa Barbara, did that for a few years and then applied to the USC Price School. I always said I wanted to create programming and opportunities for youth in that neighborhood [pointing south to where he lived] because I grew up there and there was nothing like that for me. I graduated in 2010 [from Price] and went on to Cal State Long Beach and worked four years there in student affairs for the College Assistance Migrant Program that worked with the sons and daughters of farm workers.
At that same time, I started doing a lot of speaking engagements with large audiences and sharing my journey as this kid from the neighborhood who got a master’s.
In 2015, Annenberg came knocking and everything kind of came together at just the right moment. Dean Ernest J. Wilson III made me an offer to lead community engagement. It felt right, like a full 360 had happened in my life.
Did you know what you wanted to do when you were in high school?
No, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in high school. I grew up with a speaking disability, a big stuttering problem, that still hinders me today. That really caused a lot of self-doubt in high school. But my parents would always say “we want you to do better than us.”
What’s your favorite part of working with students?
I do this work for the smiles the kids put on at the end of a program. And to have the kids, at the very end, come up to me and say, “Thank you for the experience; we learned so much.” Even the teachers saying “this was the best thing you guys could have done” really solidifies for me why we do what we do. My response to them is always the same: “Don’t thank me, it’s a total team effort from the top down. The Annenberg family came together to host this for you, and we look forward to hosting another one.”
What new things are you cooking up for civic engagement?
The Annenberg Youth Academy for Media and Civic Engagement will be held in June 2017. It’s a three-week, intensive program that will offer students the equivalent of freshman-year college courses in communication and journalism. We will select 26 students from the neighborhoods surrounding the UPC and HSC campuses. There will be an application process, and we are expecting over 100 applications. Kids are already emailing me. It’s going to be free of cost. We really want to be able to identify some very young, talented minds in South and East L.A., in Boyle Heights. And we want to create an incubator that hopefully funnels students to Annenberg from these local communities. That’s just one of the things I’m looking forward to doing.