LOS ANGELES — Kaelyn Hughes, 21, has wanted to teach since she was in third grade. For her, school has always been a place of comfort – and she wants to share what education has meant to her with other children.
“I would like to show other black girls that you can do it – you can go to college. I’m from a low income area and I didn’t think I would go to college. I didn’t think not that I would go far,” she says. “But you use education to help you get better somewhere.”
The UC Merced senior spends time in elementary classrooms working with students struggling with math or English as a volunteer — a service that would otherwise be a luxury she couldn’t afford. But through her participation in the state’s Civic Action Scholarship pilot program, she received a stipend for tuition and basic needs, such as rent, allowing her to continue the service instead of another job to make ends meet.
The Civic Action Pilot is a model for an initiative at 45 state community colleges and universities, including Merced, that will award $10,000 grants to up to 6,500 community service-oriented students through the new Californians for All College Corps Scholarship.
The more than $60 million program aims to support Dreamers and students from low-income backgrounds, including Pell Grant recipients like Hughes, who want to do meaningful volunteer work but face barriers because they have to often work multiple jobs to support themselves or their families. Selected students will be expected to complete a total of 450 hours of community service throughout the school year, focusing on issues such as education disparities in K-12 schools, climate change and recovery of COVID-19. Services may include tutoring and mentoring, conservation efforts, and meal delivery.
Hughes’ time in schools gave him practical experiences towards his career goals.
“If you’re willing to serve your community and give back in a meaningful way, we’ll help pay for your education,” said California Services Director Josh Fryday, comparing the initiative to the GI Bill.
The program is part of a $146 million investment in future leaders under Governor Gavin Newsom’s California Comeback Plan.
“If this thing works, we can go back to the Legislative Assembly and take it to a whole new level – damn it, we can take it to the rest of the country because no one else is doing it,” said Newsom.
Funds will go to 16 California State University campuses including Cal State Los Angeles, Cal State Long Beach, Cal Poly Pomona and San Jose State, seven University of California campuses including UCLA and UC San Diego , and 18 community colleges, including East Los Angeles College and Glendale Community College, in addition to a handful of private universities.
“The state’s historic investment in this program will help thousands of students pay for their education and reduce their debt,” said UC Chancellor Michael V. Drake. “Most importantly, this partnership reflects our shared commitment to making college affordable for everyone, including the 35% of UC undergraduates who rely on Pell grants to pay for their education.”
Campuses should have the application materials available by March. Cal State Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said up to 1,300 Cal State students will benefit from the funds; California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said it would expand to “hundreds, if not thousands” of students.
Ian Chavez, a computer science junior at San Jose State and a member of the Civic Action Program, said the funding has allowed him to continue volunteering to teach public school children how to code at the heart of Silicon Valley, where a computer science education is not a guarantee.
Chavez, 20, used his stipend to help pay for tuition and materials, including a webcam he uses for virtual presentations.
“If I didn’t have those funds, I would have to find additional work,” Chavez said. “Having an additional source of income is useful. I don’t have to trade my school time for my work time. The schedules are flexible.”
The program allows her to spend her time outside of school doing work related to her major, rather than taking a job in an unrelated field. Chavez, who lives in Gilroy with his parents to save money, said he worked at a mall before entering college. He dipped into that income during his first year at school and said that if it weren’t for the volunteer work, he would likely take on similar work.
He has hopes for his service work.
“If someone is pursuing a STEM major and helping to diversify the industry at the expense of several hours of my time,” he said, “then I think that’s an amazing exchange and so helpful.”
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