Modeling Civic Responsibility – Go USC!

Helen of Troy_Joyce Rey

Joyce Rey (second from right) as finalist for USC’s Helen of Troy Competition, which she won in 1963. Source: Los Angeles Times

As a USC alumnus, I felt quite proud of my alma mater when I read Frank Bruni’s April 26 New York Times op-ed, “Lifting Kids to College.” I know, personally, the value of scholarships and am gratified that USC takes seriously the role of nurturing students from every walk of life.

One way they do this is through the Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), a seven-year pre-college enrichment program for underprivileged kids in South and East Los Angeles. According to USC, “students must commit to a seven-year plan of after-school tutoring, coupled with Saturday morning classes. Parents are also required to attend a biweekly Family Development Institute program to create a 360 degree, hands-on approach to reinforce student academic goals and study habits and maximize a healthy home environment. Students who remain in the program in good standing from sixth grade until their high school graduation are eligible for a full scholarship to USC, provided they meet admission requirements. Since its first graduating class in 1997, nearly 1,000 students have completed the program with 83 percent enrollment as freshman at four-year universities, and 35 percent enrollment at USC.”

Sierra Williams, a student at University of Southern California, was enrolled in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative. Credit Brad Torchia for The New York Times

Sierra Williams, a student at University of Southern California, was enrolled in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative. Credit Brad Torchia for The New York Times

Bruni’s article cites the abysmal record of “socioeconomic diversity at the country’s most celebrated colleges” and says that USC “outpaces most of its peers in trying to lift disadvantaged kids to better lives.”

The idea of NAI is not to just find more kids that fit a profile and try to shoehorn them in to the university to sink or swim on their own. Rather, it is to “guide them through elementary, middle and high school so that they have the necessary grades, scores, skills and mind-sets” to compete and succeed in the most demanding university environment.

In fact, USC president, C. L. Max Nikias, is encouraging other colleges to form partnerships with K-12 schools and has even asked that I become a USC Ambassador! USC is a fine model. According to Bruni, “In addition to the N.A.I., it has been involved in the establishment of three charter high schools serving low-income neighborhoods in its general geographic area. The first of these, U.S.C. Hybrid High, was set in motion by the U.S.C. Rossier School of Education. Last year’s seniors were Hybrid High’s first graduating class. All 84 were accepted into four-year colleges.”

I’m proud of USC, and I’m proud of each and every one of those students who has made that seven-year commitment. They are our future – and education matters.