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Alumna Achieves Career Dream, New Guardian Scholars Enter Award-Winning Program

Sept. 26, 2012

Robyn Harney

Robyn Harney

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For Guardian Scholar alumna Robyn Harney, it’s a dream come true to go to work each day at a star-studded entertainment studio.

“I mean, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was filmed on one of our stages. There is just so much history here. For an entertainment junkie like me, it’s an exciting place to be,” said Harney, manager of media and talent relations at Sony Pictures Television in Culver City.

Harney has always wanted to work in entertainment and even considered acting. When she came to Cal State Fullerton in 2001 as a freshman and became part of the Guardian Scholars program, she was a theatre arts major. Then she realized she preferred working behind the scenes and changed her major to communications.

“I didn’t really decide to become a publicist; my career actually chose me,” she said. “There are so many things in the entertainment industry that I would still love to do, but right now I’m very happy with where I am. I work on some incredible television programs and with some incredibly talented people. It’s a great job!”

Guardian Scholars was established on campus in 1998, in collaboration with the Orangewood Children’s Foundation to help former foster youth achieve their educational and career goals.

Harney, who earned a bachelor’s degree in communications-public relations  in 2006, was a ward of the court as a teenager. She said her years as a Guardian Scholar gave her more than a scholarship — the program gave her the emotional and academic support she needed to graduate and earn a college degree.

“The best thing about the program is that it offers a true support system. The program and the staff supported me emotionally when I was stressed about finals, questioning my major, having roommate drama and more,” Harney said. “They also supported me, and other students, with simple life lessons, like doing your taxes and creating a budget. When I was going to school, it really felt like a family. They were there for me in every aspect of my life.”

Guardian Scholars also played a part in her career success as a result of the nurturing and guidance she received as an undergraduate.

“The one thing that contributed most to my current success was the unwavering support. When I questioned my goals and dreams, when I wanted to give up, when I changed my major a year away from graduation, program staff supported me through everything. When you grow up in the foster care/court system, it’s hard to find people who actually believe in you, who root for you, who care about you, no matter what. The Guardian Scholars program provided that unconditional support that I needed to push on and be successful in school and in life.”

Even today, six years after she graduated, the Los Angeles resident, who aspires to attend film school one day, knows she can still ask for help. “I still keep in touch with people from the program on a regular basis,” she said.

Program Welcomes 14 Scholars

Fourteen students are the newest members of the Guardian Scholars program. The group includes high school graduates and community college transfer students. The program now has 40 scholars attending CSUF.  

“Guardian Scholars has risen to state and national prominence as an outstanding model to assist and support emancipated foster youth in their pursuit of a college degree,” said Grace Castillo Johnson, program director. “We’ve earned this reputation because of the commitment and support from administration and staff and our corps of community supporters.”  

Through private financial support and partnerships with public agencies and industry, the program offers students a full scholarship for tuition fees, housing and textbooks throughout their undergraduate education. In addition to financial support, the emancipated foster youth receive personalized mentoring and counseling to help make the transition to adulthood and self-sufficiency.  

“Despite the difficulties and disappointments they have experienced early in their lives, our scholars receive the educational and interpersonal skills necessary to become self-supporting and competent professionals in their selected fields,” Castillo Johnson said. “ Today, many alumni of the program have achieved their goals and serve as career professionals in law enforcement, teaching, social work, finance and nursing, just to name a few.”   

For the new students who entered the program this fall, Harney characterizes their action as one of the best decisions they have made for their futures. “I would recommend the Guardian Scholars program for any foster youth who has a drive to be successful in life. The program will push you, and it won’t always be easy, but the staff will be there to support you every step of the way.   

“If you have that drive to be successful, they will do everything in their power to lift you up to levels of success you could only dream of. There really are no limits to what you can do when you have the support of these amazing people and this incredible program.”  

The new Guardian Scholars are: 

  • Martina Rodgers of Anaheim, human services
  • Maria Pineda of El Centro, sociology
  • Antonio Choice of Fontana, kinesiology 
  • John Terry of Garden Grove, undeclared
  • Mitchell Demedenko of Huntington Beach, business administration-management  
  • Tamika Jones of Los Angeles County, criminal justice
  • Erika Browell of Orange County, psychology
  • Carlos Zelaya of Orange County, sociology
  • Trinity Lott of Rancho Cucamonga, biological science
  • Thawng Thang of Riverside, health science
  • Daniel Smith-Bryant of Riverside County, chemistry
  • Joseph Fordjour of Santa Ana, communications
  • Tonya Parker of Tustin, undeclared

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

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