Tuffy’s Graduation Scholars Reception

Scholars Program Builds Community of Diverse First-Year Students


CSUF News Service

New Tuffy's Graduation Scholars Program Launched This Fall Gives Incoming Freshmen Support and Guidance in Their Titan College Journey

Campus Leaders Lift Up
Tuffy’s Graduation Scholars 

To rally a sense of community, belonging and Titan pride, Tuffy’s Graduation Scholars — incoming freshmen, with many, the first in their families to go to college — attended an Oct. 13 campus reception in their honor.

The crowd of freshmen and their parents was greeted by Cal State Fullerton President Fram Virjee; Clint-Michael Reneau, associate vice president for student affairs; and Melissa Romo, assistant dean for student affairs, who is overseeing Tuffy’s Graduation Scholars.

“To me the whole point of this reception is to make sure you know that you are welcome here,” Virjee said. “You belong here.”

Reneau echoed the sentiment by telling scholars: “Know that you are never alone in this journey. We are here with you. You will have the tools, the resources and the support to succeed at Cal State Fullerton. You got this!

“You deserve to walk across that stage one day and hear your name — with a degree in your hand.”

Reneau added that the reception was a way to foster an environment where students and their families or support systems could see themselves at Cal State Fullerton "developing a sense of belonging with our incredible campus."

University leaders also encouraged the diverse students to find their passions, work hard to graduate in four years, let their voices be heard and be proud of their cultural backgrounds.

“What I want more than anything else, is for you to graduate, for you to be successful, and for you, when the time comes, to reach back and help other students here do the same thing,” Virjee said. “This program is all about student success — your future.”

For more information about the program, visit the website.

Related story: Breaking Down Barriers to Graduation

Mohammed Khafaja moved to the U.S. when he was 13 from Baghdad, Iraq. He struggled to learn English and adapt to public school. As an incoming Cal State Fullerton freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, he now speaks English fluently and is the first in his family to attend college.

Metztli Mora’s family immigrated to this country from Oaxaca, Mexico. Her father didn’t make it past an elementary school education although her mother worked hard to earn a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Cal State Fullerton. Mora, a psychology major, wanted to further her education beyond high school to pursue a career helping children and teens.

To assist these incoming freshmen in earning a college diploma and reaching their career goals, both are part of the new Tuffy’s Graduation Scholars program, a cross-divisional initiative to guide first-year students every step of the way during their Titan college journey. Launched this fall, the program is a collaborative effort between the divisions of Student Affairs, Academic Affairs and Information Technology.

“Through this four-year program, students have identified partners in their academic journey. Our sole responsibility is to help them navigate the university, their college and major, and support them in their development as a college student,” said Catherine Ward, executive director of retention initiatives.

The program demonstrates the university’s commitment to serving an increasingly diverse student population, Ward added. It is designed to increase student academic success and encourage students to complete their degree program in four years. The effort is funded through the California State University’s Graduation Initiative 2025, which aims to increase graduation rates for all CSU students, while eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps.

To participate, students met a combination of eligibility criteria, which includes financial aid eligibility, first-generation college student status, and that they are not participating in another university scholar program, Ward said.

Currently, 761 freshmen are participating in the program and are receiving a range of services and support to keep them on track academically. These include personalized academic advising, counseling and career services, and activities to engage in campus social life to develop a sense of community. Scholars also have the opportunity to serve in leadership roles and get involved in community service projects.

This program allows the CSUF community to focus intentional efforts that engage, support and expand equity-minded practices on our campus in order to ensure that all students who enter in the door get the very best chance at graduating. 

— Clint-Michael Reneau, associate vice president for student affairs

To be part of the program, students must meet with an academic adviser once a semester, be involved in three campus events each semester, undergo graduation checks, maintain a 2.5 GPA or higher and enroll in 30 units each academic year, which can also include winter and summer sessions. Scholars also receive a Dell laptop computer to use, provided by Information Technology. If students complete two years in the program, they can keep their computers. IT, which offered technology orientations, used GI2025 funds to purchase the computers. 

"One of our goals is to shepherd these students into their student success centers, where they can find college specific support, and feel a sense of belonging and connection to the university," Ward noted.

For Mora and Khafaja, that is why they joined the program — to get the resources and services they need to stay on course in their majors.

“It’s my first semester here and having help with the transition from high school to college is helpful earlier in my college career,” Mora said. “By participating in this program, I’m not only getting academic help, but I’m also making connections with people, meeting new people, and getting more involved on campus.”

In making the transition to college, Khafaja relayed he “felt very lost.” Not having a family tradition of attending college was challenging. But by being part of the scholars program, he’s getting his questions answered and is connecting with resources, such as tutoring.

“My goal is to graduate as soon as possible — and to live the American dream,” Khafaja said.

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