Pumped with energy, high school students turned out to learn about opportunities and access to higher education at USC’s fifth annual College Access Day.
The daylong event held Feb. 10 attracted students from nearby high schools, including Belmont, Santee, Contreras Learning Complex and the Los Angeles School of Global Studies. Students from Boyle Heights, Los Feliz, Eagle Rock, Compton and Pomona were also on hand for campus tours, student panels, a pizza lunch and talks with mentors.
“There are a lot of ways you can change the world, but we know the way that is most likely to have that effect is through a college education,” USC Provost Michael Quick told the students. “It’s also the safest route to a great life.”
Quick, who was the first in his family to attend college, has made access for first-generation students a priority. Nearly every hand in the Eileen Norris Cinema Theater went up when Quick asked, “How many of you have parents who didn’t go to college?”
The provost used his own experience to reassure students about their chances of success.
“I didn’t think about college until I got out of high school, and I had nobody to help me navigate,” he said. “It’s great that you’re going through this today. You already have what you need to be successful.”
USC Rossier School of Education Dean Karen Symms Gallagher reaffirmed Quick’s confidence-building message.
“By learning college knowledge now and receiving help from a mentor, by walking around, you’re learning what it’s like to feel at home on a college campus,” she said. “We want to make this easier for you.”
Making college familiar
College Access Day was started by John Pascarella, associate professor of clinical education at USC Rossier.
“I did this because I was one of those kids from a single-parent family with good grades but no idea how to apply to college,” he said.
“I worked as a night manager at McDonalds as an undergraduate. Financial literacy is a big part of this day. I want kids to know about the scholarships and grants that are available, so they can see themselves in college, fitting in and excelling and eventually giving back to their communities.”
Students from Pico Union, Westlake, South Los Angeles and other neighborhoods asked how to make the leap to higher education.
“I think the academic transition from high school to college is difficult,” said Ana Sotomayor, a junior at Belmont High School with an interest in studying journalism. “A lot of our students aren’t confident they can thrive in a college environment, so I’m excited to be here today because I think minds will change. I want to take this information home and talk to my parents about it.”
College Access Day is a grassroots effort supported by volunteers, USC student groups and mentors, USC Rossier, the USC Office for Residential Education and the Office of the Provost.