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NAI grads heading to USC and other top universities

A medal, certificate and USC letterman jacket are presented to each NAI graduate. (Photo/Steve Cohn)

Which high school graduating class boasts 100 percent of its students enrolling in higher education?

All 57 graduates of USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), a college preparatory program serving public school students from the university’s neighborhoods, will continue their education this fall.

Fourteen of the graduates will attend USC on a full-tuition scholarship, with more headed for other top universities around the country, including the United States Military Academy, Pomona College, Bucknell University and University of California campuses.

Almost all the first in their families to attend college, the program’s students spent six to seven years coming to USC’s campus for early-morning math and English classes and afterschool tutoring during the week as well as daylong Saturday classes.

A special gala hosted by USC Civic Engagement will take place at Town & Gown on May 9 in honor of the graduates, family members, teachers and supporters.

A special recognition will also be presented to USC Trustee Mónica Lozano, president and CEO of impreMedia and La Opinión, for her advocacy efforts in education and college access programs.

To date, 745 South Los Angeles students have graduated from the NAI program and gone to college.

“NAI is really a game changer in the South Los Angeles neighborhoods around USC’s University Park campus,” said Kim Thomas-Barrios, executive director of the NAI. “Instead of wondering if they are going to attend college, students are thinking about where they are going to college. It transforms a student’s view of their future prospects as one filled with choice.”

Among the 2013 highlights:

Tristan Baizar was accepted to 14 schools but chose to attend USC to study business as a Norman Topping scholarship recipient. Baizar, who will represent the NAI as a speaker at the gala, was born in Belize and came to America at the age of 4. He attended Foshay Learning Center, one of the USC Family of Schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“NAI gave him direction,” said Malva Yorke, Baizar’s mother. “This was everything he worked toward for the past seven years.”

Carlos Prado will attend the United States Military Academy after graduating from Foshay, where he attended school since kindergarten. He plans to transform his community though financial literacy education.

Vanessa Lopez, who is helping to make a difference in her community through her involvement with a performance-based activism group, will attend USC.

Oscar Sanabria, an accomplished musician who calls music his “oxygen” and plays the piano, drums, trumpet, violin, bass and trombone, will attend California State University, Los Angeles.

Karolina Reyes and Arcelia Gante are aerial acrobats who will attend USC and El Camino College, respectively.

Gricelda Bonilla’s two daughters graduated from the NAI and earned full-tuition scholarships to USC. The oldest, Jacqueline, will graduate from USC this year with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Bonilla’s younger daughter, Jennifer, is a junior studying to be an astronautical engineer. Both have performed in the USC Trojan Marching Band.

“Since they were in kindergarten, teachers told me they were smart, and [my daughters] realized with education, you have a better future,” Bonilla said.

In the NAI, “you take the extra academic classes, go to school on Saturday. Seven years of Saturdays, it’s a lot of work. Since I didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, I wanted [my daughters] to have that opportunity for a better life.”

The NAI is a seven-year, pre-college enrichment program operated by USC Civic Engagement that prepares low-income, minority students living in the neighborhoods surrounding USC for success at a college or university.

Over the past 15 years, 99 percent of NAI graduates have enrolled in secondary education programs, with 83 percent enrolling as freshmen in four-year colleges.

More than one-third of NAI graduates during that time attended USC.

The NAI also includes a Family Development Institute that assists parents in supporting their college-bound student with workshops and training on financial literacy and college retention, among other topics.

The list of graduates with a university choice follows:

Jessica Alcazar, University of California, Irvine
Catherine Alfaro, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Melissa Viviana Avina, Pomona College
Eric Alexander Ayala, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Tristan Baizar, USC
Edna Barco, USC
Tavis Derrick Burnes, California State University, Dominguez Hills
Andrea Camarillo, Humboldt State University
Connie Cardona, Mount St. Mary’s College
Krystal Marie Chavez, USC
Brittney Coleman, California State University, Northridge
Raeven Colmore, California State University, Northridge
Rosemary Donis, California State University, Los Angeles
Juan Antonio Escalante, University of California, Riverside
Arcelia Gante-Pineda, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Manuel Francisco Garcia, El Camino College (plans to transfer to USC)
Rene Garcia-Ayon, California State University, Northridge
Milagros Garrido, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Brandon Givan Giles, California State University, Long Beach
Aracely Herrera, California State University, Chico
Kristin Holloway, University of California, Irvine
Jessica Lazaro, USC
Vanessa Lopez, USC
Daniel Lopez, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Alexander Domingo Lopez, El Camino College (plans transfer to four-year college)
Maribel Lopez, Bucknell University
Joseph Ryan Lynch, California State University, Los Angeles
Christopher Marroquin, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
David Melara, University of California, Los Angeles
Misael Meza, California State University, Long Beach
Sabrina Mora, California State University, Northridge
Brenda Janet Morales, USC
Vanessa Mored, Humboldt State University
Jiovani Moreno, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Kevin Nerio, California State University Long Beach
Daniel Novoa El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Saul Antonio Ortiz, USC
Mayra Elisett Pena, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Carlos Prado Jr., United States Military Academy
George Bryan Ramos, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Diane Reyes, California State University, Long Beach
Karolina Reyes, USC
Irving Erasmo Ruiz, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Luis Ruiz, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Oscar Sanabria, California State University, Los Angeles
Carlos Sanchez, USC
Omar Sanchez, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Emely Stephanie Sanchez, University of California, Los Angeles
Daniel Sierra, USC
Perla Solorzano, USC
Kenia Sosa University of California, Riverside
Victor Tellez, USC
Sandra Urbina, USC
Marvin Enrique Vargas, USC
Edgar Daniel Vera, El Camino College (plans transfer to USC)
Tazon Darden Watkins, California State University, Northridge
Jocelyn Zambrano, University of California, Irvine


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