To make sure they started the school year prepared, recipients of the Norman Topping scholarship gathered for the annual new scholar breakfast and all-scholar retreat.
“Everyone in the Topping group is there to help one another,” said Natalie Parra, a freshman majoring in communication. “They’re a family that really wants to see everyone succeed.”
Part of the Division of Student Affairs, the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund (NTSAF) is a student-initiated, student-funded and student-run scholarship with a special focus on local and first-generation students committed to community service.
The 28 newest scholars got their official welcome to USC on Aug. 11 over a breakfast buffet with their families, friends and the NTSAF staff and governing board. For many of the parents, the event was their first introduction to the extra financial and academic resources that Topping provides for their students.
“I really believe that she’s blessed — all of the students here are blessed to receive this,” said Yvette Parra, Natalie’s mother. “Coming here, I imagine, is very intimidating. There’s a huge campus and a lot to learn. So just knowing that she has the support here with Topping, I’m very grateful.”
The next weekend, the Topping Scholars hopped on a bus headed for the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort in Palm Springs, where they took a two-day crash course in campus resources and self-discovery.
Workshops included career planning with the staff of the USC Career Center, reflections on student self-image and leadership exercises. The retreat also included presentations from staff members throughout the Division of Student Affairs on important campus resources.
“We learned a ton of information in two days,” Natalie Parra said. “I learned to take advantage of the resources that we have here.”
Between workshops, the retreat offered a chance for incoming Topping Scholars to spend time with their peers, with whom they shared rooms, meals and downtime.
“It’s a good way to transition into this new environment,” said Debbie Rumbo, a senior Topping Scholar majoring in political science and philosophy. “The retreat serves as a way to get to know us and the Norman Topping family.”
The retreat ended with a forum for reflection, where Rumbo experienced the retreat’s transforming effect on the new scholars.
“I was surprised by these freshmen who didn’t speak for the first couple of hours or even the first day,” Rumbo said. “They go up there, and they start crying with us.”
The breakfast and retreat are part of the NTSAF’s commitment to encouraging and supporting their scholars in academic achievement through community building. That includes community service events, success seminars, student-faculty luncheons and an open-office policy, so that scholars can seek counsel and guidance from NTSAF Director Christina Yokoyama and Associate Director Felipe Martinez.
“A lot of our students come from similar backgrounds or have experienced similar circumstances, so they’re able to relate to one another,” Martinez said. “We really develop our relationship with the students and become advocates for them. They see us as big brothers and sisters.”