Alexis Figueroa is a single mom with three young sons. She grew up in the foster care system and is a community college transfer student. Jeremiah Riggins graduated at the top of his high school class and is an incoming freshmen. While both took different paths to get to Cal State Fullerton this fall, each has found a new home within the university’s Center for Scholars.
Figueroa is a Guardian Scholar, a program for current and former foster youth, and Riggins, who graduated high school with a 4.4. GPA is a President’s Scholar, a merit-based scholarship program for high achieving first-year students.
These students and other incoming President’s Scholars and Guardian Scholars were welcomed to campus at an informal gathering Sept. 10, hosted by President Fram Virjee and his wife, Julie.
“This is your home, you are welcome here,” Virjee told the scholars. “We are your Titan family.”
This year, 43 current and former youth joined the Guardian Scholars program, in which 15 of the incoming students are receiving full-ride scholarships. The remainder of the scholars have access to the myriad of support services and resources the program offers.
“Thank you for your courage and persistence, and thank you for all that you offer to our classrooms and our community,” Virjee told the Guardian Scholars. “Know that we’re here for you; we’re here to support you. We’re going to be asking you to reach higher, to do your best, but know that we’re going to be standing next to you and doing our best to make sure you succeed. Your future is important to us.”
To the 17 President’s Scholars joining the program, which aims to create leaders and role models, Virjee told the students they are an “inspirational group, not just in the classroom, but in the community.” While these scholars focus on academic pursuits, they also perform hours of service to the local community.
“We’re here for you and committed to your success, too,” added Virjee, who also thanked faculty and staff members and donors for their support to scholars.
Six programs are now housed under the Center for Scholars — with a total of 122 incoming scholars — and this academic year, the center has created a more collaborative, inclusive approach to engage all of the students from diverse backgrounds in various group learning, leadership and personal growth activities, said Yajayra Tovar, director of the Center for Scholars.
“The idea is that students from each of the scholar programs get to know each other and learn from each other,” Tovar said. “By sharing their experiences and challenges, they become better prepared for the real-world when they graduate.”
Riggins, a graduate from Independence High School in Bakersfield, already has made a new college friend who is a Guardian Scholar.
“I look forward to being open-minded with the other scholars as we share our different perspectives so we can learn from each other, work with one another, show our support to others and become as successful as we can,” said Riggins, a business administration-finance major and Business Honors student who aspires to a career as a chief financial officer.
Riggins, who also received a scholarship from the university’s Male Success Initiative-Fullerton program that supports men of color to help them reach their higher education goals, is looking forward to setting an example for others.
“I’m really glad that I chose CSUF. I’ve been blessed to experience how beautifully minded the people are here,” he said. “I feel welcomed and motivated to strive for high achievement in academics and campus and community involvement.”
Figueroa, a Guardian Scholars scholarship recipient, is a human services major. After earning a bachelor’s degree, she plans to pursue a graduate degree in social work and a career making reforms in the foster care system. At age 7, she and her three siblings entered the system, and during her childhood, she lived with multiple foster families and in group homes. While in high school, Figueroa gave birth to two of her sons, and was determined to graduate and go to college.
For the first-generation college student and Santa Ana College graduate, higher education is her way of beating the system and making change.
“I look forward to being a leader in the Guardian Scholars program and helping others who have had similar experiences,” Figueroa said. And one day, she added, “I hope to make changes in the foster care system so things are better for other foster youth.”