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Transforming Lives: California’s College Corps Program Helps Students Achieve Goals Through Community Service Work

Transforming Lives: California's College Corps Program Helps Students Achieve Goals Through Community Service Work

Magazine, Making Money

Governor Gavin Newsom’s #CaliforniansForAll College Corps program launched a year ago, provides more than 3,000 college students with the opportunity to earn up to $10,000 towards their education in exchange for community service work. The program has been transformative for both students and the organizations where they work. Students report that finding purpose is a powerful motivator during a time of rising rates of depression, anxiety, financial stress, and uncertainty. In this talk, speakers include Emilio Ruiz, College Corps Fellow, Liberal Studies Major, and Fellow Ambassador for the CSULB College Corps Program, Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith Ph.D., Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center, Dr. Beth Manke, Campus Program Lead, Professor of Human Development and Co-PI/Program Director for the CSULB College Corps Program, Ishmael Pruitt, Community Host Partner, Co-founder and CEO of Project Optimism, and Josh Fryday, California Chief Service Officer, California Volunteers, Office of the Governor.

Emilio Ruiz shares his personal story and experiences with the College Corps program. He is pursuing a career in education and has been placed with Ground Education, a Long Beach nonprofit organization that teaches outdoor and garden-based learning to Long Beach Elementary School children. Through his internship, Emilio has developed many skills that will be of great value to him as a working professional in the future. He has also renewed his passion for teaching and feels like he now belongs to a close-knit community that shares the drive and determination to improve the school system. Being part of College Corps has been an exciting and transformative experience for Emilio, and he hopes that his story serves as an example for others considering the program.

The next speaker Ishmael Pruitt is a Community Host Partner who works directly with two College Corps Fellows and is also a co-founder and CEO of Project Optimism. Ishmael himself faced academic challenges while attending CSU Sacramento, but eventually found his confidence and identity as a youth mentor at Haram Johnson High School. This experience inspired him to create Project Optimism, a student organization aimed at helping students increase their grades, focus, and engagement. Today, Project Optimism is a Youth Development organization that serves over 340 at-promise youth in Sacramento and Los Angeles County.

Ishmael believes in supporting the whole student, meeting their unique needs before pushing academic rigor. With two College Corps Fellows from CSU Long Beach, Ishmael has found ways to accommodate their schedules so they can work with Project Optimism’s students despite having limited availability due to school and internships. The fellows work on events like backpack drives, food distributions, and toy drives, as well as mentoring at-promise youth. Additionally, Ishmael ensures that every intern and employee at Project Optimism receives mentoring and professional development, and has access to networking opportunities in their chosen fields.

“I appreciate the opportunity to share information about the College Corps program at Cal State Long Beach. As Campus Program Lead, Professor of Human Development, and Co-PI/Program Director, Dr. Beth Manke is proud that our program is one of the 46 universities and colleges offering College Corps programs this academic year. We have 50 undergraduate students, including those who are undocumented, completing 450 hours of work at one of 27 local nonprofit organizations addressing climate change, environmental justice, food insecurity, and K-12 education.

What sets us apart is our focus on internships rather than service learning or volunteering, which we believe provides transformative experiences for our students. Our mid-year survey found that over 85% of our student fellows reported that their internships have helped them apply course knowledge to real-world experiences, develop job-related skills, work effectively in teams, and improve their writing and critical thinking abilities. Our students also reported gaining leadership skills, understanding their role in their community, and increasing their self-confidence.

To answer your question about the overall number of students involved statewide, College Corps has engaged over 3,000 students since its launch in August 2021. The program is open to all college students in California, with a focus on recruiting those from underrepresented communities. The Long Beach program is a great example of how College Corps is making a difference in the lives of black and brown students, and we hope to continue expanding the program to reach even more students in the future.”

Dr. Mankey, could you describe some of the challenges that the college students you work with are facing today?

I agree with Dr. Briscoe Smith that our current system is failing us, and simply returning to pre-pandemic norms is not a viable solution. Many students have had to navigate primarily online learning for the past few years, and now that they are back on campus, they are facing new challenges. For example, some students may have to commute to campus and deal with uncertain financial or economic situations for themselves and their families. Others have experienced financial loss during the pandemic and may be contributing to their families’ financial security. It is crucial to engage with these students authentically and recognize their unique situations. We need to reach out to them and meet them where they are, rather than waiting for them to come to us.

Our final speaker, Josh Fryday, oversees the College Corps program as the California Chief Service Officer for California Volunteers in the Office of the Governor. He works closely with the governor’s office and has influencer status at the highest levels of state government. Josh, could you provide us with your perspective on the first nine months of the program, any lessons learned, your view of the program’s future, and the challenges you foresee for the second year?

Transforming Lives: California's College Corps Program Helps Students Achieve Goals Through Community Service Work


Thank you for organizing this conversation around hope, and I find hope in Emilio’s story, his spirit, and his commitment to being an educator. With College Corps, there are thousands like him across the state, and I also find hope in Ishmael’s inspiring volunteer experience, which gave him the confidence to help thousands of students in need throughout California. I would like to thank Dr. Mankey for leading the next generation of leaders and Dr. Brisco Smith for helping rebuild the trust that underpins our democracy.

To answer your question, Sandy, the governor, and California recognize that we are facing multiple crises, including student debt, climate change, food insecurity, educational disparities, and a crisis of the spirit. The great resignation, anxiety, polarization, and divisiveness fueled by social media are also affecting our society. Everyone is looking for meaning, purpose, belonging, and community. College Corps helps address all of these issues at once. Like the California GI Bill, the program enables students like Emilio to earn up to $10,000 by committing to a year of service, eliminating the need for loans or other jobs. These young people are doing meaningful work for their communities and addressing issues like climate change, food insecurity, and educational disparities.

Creating and fostering hope is one of our biggest challenges. It is more than just creating belief; it requires action, a plan, and a real path for change. President Obama once said that hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, work for it, and fight for it. Students like Emilio and his colleagues are working for it, fighting for it, and showing us the courage to create the change society needs. College Corps is a win-win-win: for the students, the communities they serve, and society as a whole.

I would like to share a quick story about Natalie, another inspiring student from a community college in LA. She said that because of College Corps, for the first time in her life, she feels connected to her community. Joy and happiness come from being connected to other people and helping them. College Corps students across the state are being connected to their communities and each other, and we are seeing the impact in the first nine months, which gives us hope for years to come.

Regarding the number of students involved in College Corps statewide, we have engaged over 3,000 students since the program’s launch in August 2021. College Corps is open to all college students in California, with a focus on recruiting those from underrepresented communities. The Long Beach program is a great illustration of how the program is making a difference in the lives of black and brown students. We are eager to expand the program further to reach even more students in the future.”

#Governor Gavin Newsom #CaliforniansForAll #CollegeCorps #communityservice #education #students #California #underrepresentedcommunities #CSULB #GreaterGoodScienceCenter #humandevelopment #ProjectOptimism #CaliforniaVolunteers #OfficeoftheGovernor #mentalhealth #purpose #motivation

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