Reality Changers and Imperial Valley students: First-generation college-bound students face their future


In a very small classroom at UC San Diego, about 20 attentive students are giving presentations. But these aren’t the students you’d expect to see on a college campus – they are high schoolers who are part of a three-week summer program called Academic Connections, which prepares young students for college life, both academically and socially.

In this particular class, Disease Detectives: Introduction to Epidemiology, the students are learning about the causes and effects of disease and illness. One of the students presenting is Paola Duarte, a 16-year-old from Southern California’s Imperial Valley.

Duarte is a first-generation college-bound student and is thrilled to be on the UC San Diego campus. She is especially grateful that, as part of the migrant family program at her high school, she received a full scholarship ($3,900) to attend the summer college prep program. UC San Diego Extension provides scholarships for its Academic Connections program for low-income, high-potential youth to give them a chance to become first generation college students.

“I am excited to be the first one in my family to go to college and to show them that I can do it,” said Duarte, who had to write an essay and collect recommendation letters to get accepted into the program. “This campus is the only UC that has human biology, which I want to major in. I wanted to come here to learn more about the campus and get college credits so I could have the possibility of being admitted to UC San Diego. I also wanted to come here because I wanted to spend my summer doing great things and to improve academically.”

Besides boosting her college-prep experience, Duarte got a good taste of campus life during the summer residential program – literally.

“I like to live on campus and eat food from the cafeteria,” she said. “It’s an experience. You are getting prepared for when you go to college; you know what it’s like not to have your mom’s food every day.”

Making new friends from around the world is another bonus.

“It’s very cool because we live in Imperial Valley, which is considered a low income area, so many people there don’t have the opportunity to pay for this program,” Duarte said. “I really like the diversity here. I have learned a lot from many cultures and have made friends from different countries: China, Japan and Saudi Arabia.”

Duarte has one more year of high school, but she already has her college and career plans mapped out. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she plans to go to medical school to become a surgeon.

“I believe there is a purpose in life, and I think my purpose is to help other people,” she said, explaining that she was frequently sick as a young child. “I want to dedicate my life to that.”

Fellow classmate Ciarra Reyes also wants to be involved in the medical field. Reyes, who was born and raised in Brawley in the Imperial Valley, is the youngest of six kids. She, too, attended the Academic Connections program on a full scholarship.

“This is a really good way to experience college life and be prepared mentally and know what your choices are and where you want to go,” she said. “Before this, I wanted to be a doctor, but now I may want to go into epidemiology or work for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).”

Reyes, who celebrated her sixteenth birthday during the summer program, said the social aspect was just as important as the rich academic experience she received. Back home in the Imperial Valley, she is not part of any sports teams or clubs, but during the Academic Connections program, Reyes played soccer and Frisbee with her peers, as well as joined in on karaoke night. She also made new friends with teens from across the globe.

“With the connections you make here, if you open up to different people from different places, you can have lifelong friends,” she said. “I have one roommate from China and another roommate from Atlanta, Georgia. In Brawley, there are a lot of the same people. When we come here, other people are actually interested in our culture and it makes us feel more important and connected to our own culture. I am very grateful to be here; it’s a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you can do with your future.”

Thanks to the Academic Connections program, 16-year-old Eric Lechuga is another step closer to realizing his future – a career in medicine. Lechuga, who was able to attend through a scholarship from Reality Changers, which is a nonprofit that helps low-income youth become first-generation college students. Lechuga, for example, will be the first one in his family to go to college as his two older siblings didn’t even finish high school.

“I worked hard and got a good GPA so I could get a scholarship to come here,” he said. “My motivation to be here is I wanted to make my mom proud. When I told her that I got accepted, she was really happy and started crying.”

Lechuga, who will attend Hoover High School in San Diego in the fall as a junior, said the Academic Connections program also gave him the opportunity to meet new and different people and to broaden his view of the world.

If you have more understanding about other people’s cultures you will get along with more people,” he said. “Some people are closed minded and only focus on their own culture, which leads to racism.”


Image by Ashley Emuka, July 13, 2016

In fact, one of the main missions of the Academic Connections program is to foster a unified global village, which ties into Chancellor Pradeep Khosla’s initiative to broaden the university’s reach in an effort to create lasting partnerships with communities across the region and world.

“By partnering with the community, we can sustain a pipeline each year that helps build relationships and shapes well-rounded citizens,” said Ed Abeyta, assistant dean for community engagement and director of pre-college programs at UC San Diego Extension. “Our students from the Imperial Valley are a good example. No matter where they go they will have options to go to college. They are not only going to be good academically but they will also be good citizens. We teach them to understand themselves, how to work with others, how to disagree with civility, and ultimately find common purpose to solve problems in the world.”

Beyond borders: First-time program gives students from Mexico a taste of American college life and culture

Fifteen-year-old Rito Cervera Romero, who lives in the small town of San Cristóbal, Guanajuato, México, recently enjoyed the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to study abroad at an American university.

“This is a unique opportunity, and I am very proud to be part of this program,” he said during a break from his intensive bilingual literature class. “I wasn’t considering taking English (at this age), but now I would like to take an English course when I go back to Mexico. I want to keep practicing what I learned here. English is an important language to know.”

Centro Fox Students 2- PC Marco Huerta Alardin

Photo courtesy of instructor Marco Huerta Alardin

Cervera was one of 17 high schoolers who were part of a new partnership between UC San Diego Extension and Fundación Vamos México, a program of Centro Fox, a nonprofit started by former Mexico President Vincente Fox and his wife, Marta. The nonprofit works to create socially responsible leaders who can have an impact on society and the world through education, technology and social participation, with a goal of reducing extreme poverty and fostering development and promoting cultural values through a humanistic vision.

As part of the partnership with UC San Diego Extension, the high school students from low-resource communities in Mexico recently participated in Academic Connections, whose objective is to change students’ perspectives through education and life experiences. During the July visit, the students interacted with other American and foreign students, participated in a bilingual literature course, and visited tourist spots around San Diego. Cervera and his fellow Mexico students were given a full ride scholarship by Fundación Vamos México, with the support of Reality Changers and UC San Diego Extension.

The program allowed Cervera to practice his English, get a taste of college life and have a better understanding of future career opportunities. Still, stepping outside his comfort zone was the biggest challenge.

“I know a couple of students who did not want to come because they thought the course was going to be only in English. But if you miss things because you are afraid, you’ll never be able to learn new things. I’m here to learn, and I am happy to have this opportunity,” Cervera said.

Besides practicing English, Cervera was excited to mingle with students from around the United States and the world. This summer, Academic Connections had about 400 students from 20 U.S. states and seven countries.

“It gives me a good opportunity to hang out with other students and talk to them about their cultures and backgrounds,” Cervera said. “I have made several friends from Hong Kong and Barcelona. I am also now familiar with how to (navigate) a college campus and about campus life.”

Silvia Paulina Delgado Pompa was also up for the challenge of living in an unfamiliar city and culture. In fact, she said, the UC San Diego campus is about three times bigger than her hometown of La Providencia, a small town of 400 people located on the outskirts of León, Guanajuato.

“This kind of challenge will help me learn and grow and develop as a person,” the 17-year-old said. “Language can be a barrier for people. I held back at first because of this barrier. But I have noticed that other students who had been distant are now opening up (in this program). We are helping each other learn and translate. I also noticed there are some Chinese students who have the same English proficiency that are now opening up more.”

Besides the social aspect of the Academic Connections program, Delgado particularly enjoyed the bilingual literature class.

“It’s fascinating that everyone can have a different opinion and a different point of view on the same piece of literature,” she said. “I like that diversity. These are pieces of literature that are actually depicting the Latino community that has been marginalized. This literature is trying to provide an actual image of what a real Latino or Latina is supposed to be. The class and program in general is helping me to assume my identity, and it helps me be more empathetic toward people who may feel the same way. Literature is a good way to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

Centro Fox Students 1- PC Marco Huerta Alardin

Photo courtesy of instructor Marco Huerta Alardin

She said the three-week summer program will also help her prepare for college life. Delgado, who has applied to Universidad de Guanajuato and Universidad Tecnologica de León, wants to study either environmental sciences or urban planning, with a goal of going on to graduate school.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity because not many people have access to this type of program,” she said. “The university (UC San Diego) has made this a very comfortable and warm experience.”

Paola Capó-García, co-instructor for the Academic Connections bilingual literature class, said programs like this provide a bridge for students to move beyond their communities and engage with other languages and cultures.

“These kids are away from their parents probably for the first time, and they are in a different country that they ever have been to, and they need to learn this brand new language that they don’t have much of a connection to,” said Capó-García, also an instructor for UC San Diego’s Culture, Art and Technology Writing Program. “They are so gun ho to learn. They come in here, and anytime we have a sentence on the board they are quick to translate it. I’ve seen a lot of progress from day one, even their pronunciation of words. You can tell they are putting in extra work and effort outside of the class. They are having a true immersive bilingual experience.”

Taiwan high school students get glimpse of U.S. college life through UC San Diego Extension’s Academic Connections Program

aciwashingtonhigh3Irene Lin, a shy 16-year-old, sits down at the table and smiles wide, her braces glistening and her face beaming with excitement. It’s her first time away from home – Taichung, a popular city in central Taiwan known for its rich culture, lush landscapes and historic landmarks.

Lin is at UC San Diego with 21 of her classmates from Washington High School – located in the mountains outside Taichung – as part of the charter school’s Overseas Preparatory Program. The students are participating in a first-time program between their school and UC San Diego Extension’s Academic Connections, a pre-college program that connects high achieving high school students with a variety of college-level courses led by graduate students in a wide array of academic disciplines, as well as renown UC San Diego faculty researchers.

The new U.S. Business Studies Program, part of Academic Connections International, is a three-week summer camp that provides instruction in various business topics and in business English instruction as well as various cultural and recreational activities. The program’s goal is to enhance the students’ communication and cultural competencies, with an emphasis on improving their knowledge and awareness of U.S. business concepts and practices. The Taiwan students participated in the program in July.

Lin, who will be in eleventh grade this fall, said she not only learned important basic business and professional skills but also, more importantly, gained new skills and independence.

“At first I was very nervous. There are a lot of different people here that I have never seen before; their appearance is different than mine,” she said. “After I started to join the activities, I felt more comfortable and I met more people and had conversations with them. I would like to major in biology, and then go to medical school. So, it’s good for me to have interactions with people because it is good practice for communicating with (future) patients.”

aciwashingtonhigh2Breaking barriers and facing her fears has made Lin more confident about her future.

“Here the professors want you to be active and advocate for yourself. You have to be more active and have better time management and take care of yourself and learn to care about other people’s time,” said Lin, who wants to go to college in California. “This has been a good journey for me to have a good first impression for studying abroad so I won’t be afraid to be on a university campus.”

Fellow classmate Laurence Chen has the same sentiments. The 16-year-old said the Taiwan Academic Connections business studies program is a good opportunity for students to blend into college life and meet new people.

“I know at UC San Diego they say diversity matters, and there are a lot of people here with different backgrounds. Through this program, I have been able to meet people with different nationalities and learn more about their cultures and lifestyles,” said Chen, who attended all the Frisbee meetups during the program. “I made a lot of friends, and I hope to keep in contact with them when I go back to Taiwan.”

Academically, Chen feels more prepared for his future college life as well as his future career and life in general.

“We have learned different skills like negotiating and résumé writing and preparing for the workforce. These are skills you can use for your whole life,” said Chen. “I know how to manage my time better between play time and study time, which is important in college. I also learned how to communicate better with people I don’t know.”

Wendy Ke, one of the two chaperones from Washington High School, said the UC San Diego Extension program is part of the school’s mission to provide international experiences to its students.

aciwashinghigh1“We are trying to bring the world to our students,” said Ke, adding that the school has also sent students to Japan, England and Australia. “The UC San Diego program is a good opportunity for students who want to study in the U.S. to see what it’s like. When they go out in the real world, they will need to make new friends and cooperate with others and have teamwork. In the past, they were taught to be competitive, but now they are learning how to work in a team environment.”

Washington High School plans to further broaden its partnership with UC San Diego Extension by making the U.S. Business Studies Program a graduation requirement starting next year.

For Ed Abeyta, the assistant dean for community engagement and the director of pre-college programs at UC San Diego Extension – partnerships like the one with Washington High School provide a real world platform for future generations.

“We’re setting the stage to have a true globally engaged program,” said Abeyta. “We’re here help students uncover and discover new knowledge – not just academically but also about themselves. It is part of Extension’s larger mission to prepare people of all ages for a constantly changing world. By mixing all these students from different backgrounds, we are able to help them appreciate and embrace diversity to help improve our global village.”

For more information about Academic Connections, please visit

50 Voices of the Future: Chris Yanov on getting low income kids into college


In honor of UC San Diego Extension’s first 50 years, 50 Voices of the Future asks thought leaders about the trends, breakthroughs and social advances they foresee over the next 50 years.

Solving problems is a passion for Christopher Yanov. Whether it’s coming up with the correct answer for a puzzle on “Wheel of Fortune,” or figuring out how to get kids from tough neighborhoods into college, Yanov enjoys putting together the right pieces to create success. One of those successes is Reality Changers, a nonprofit program aimed at getting students from traditionally underserved communities ready for college. Yanov started Reality Changers in 2001, with the help of the $23,000 he won as a contestant on “Wheel of Fortune” that same year.

(1) Why is the work you do important?

Reality Changers is headquartered in a locality where only three percent of adults have college diplomas. We believe that college changes everything, especially for low-income intercity youth. We do assemblies for middle school students with a 2.0 GPA and below. Our studies have shown that unless they join Reality Changers, none of those struggling male 8th graders will graduate from their local high school, and only 25 percent of the females will be able to graduate without us.

(2) What are the influential/exciting developments happening in your field now and why?

We started in 2001 with just $300. When May 2016 comes around, 15 years later, our graduates will have produced and secured over $100 million in college scholarships. It’s taken us 15 years to accomplish that feat, but we’re on track to replicate that again by 2020. We’re launching a model where schools, school districts and other nonprofits can come and learn our curriculum. As that begins to spread across California and the country, we believe we can help low-income intercity kids earn $100 million in scholarships every single year for every 30 schools they’re in.

(3) What’s the next big thing?

We’re taking the curriculum we have for our 12th graders, which helps them navigate through the college application process, and offering that out to essentially anybody who wants it, by the end of 2016. For us, the results are every 20 students that participate earn $1.7 million in college scholarships. That works out to about $88,000 dollars per student. We’re able to offer something that can make high school counselors and teachers more efficient and effective and helping low-income kids get to college.

(4) How big of an impact will your field play in shaping the future of the San Diego region and beyond?

For one thing, in certain areas of San Diego only 50 percent of students are graduating high school. To have all these voices who have never really had a place in San Diego’s society to finally be able to represent their families, their neighborhood, their backgrounds – it’ll really be amazing to have these voices play significant roles in San Diego’s ongoing conversation.

When you look that far into the future, I mean, who else but Reality Changer students are the best educated, best spoken, and the ones who care the most about their community? There’s a good chance that our graduates could take up a third of the City Council within a decade or two. Not that that will happen, I’m just saying that the percentages are in our favor.

(5) Hop into your time machine…what does the future look like for this field in 50 years? How can individuals/companies get prepared for what’s next?

Reality Changers focuses on the toughest and brightest youth living in the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. What happens is that by raising their grades from below a 2.0, to say a 3.5 and above, going to UC San Diego over the summer after 9th, 10th, and 11th grade for three weeks, taking college classes, believing and becoming convinced they can succeed at a college level – the sky’s the limit. In 50 years, I honestly haven’t looked that far into the future with the program and the students, but I can only imagine that the success that they’re experiencing at such a young age will be multiplied by the time they have their own resources and their own connections to make an impact on San Diego.

Learn more about Academic Connections and explore our other Pre-College programs such as Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego, SIO Games at Elementary Institute of Science, ThoughtSTEM (college prep credit in computer science), and Test Prep for the CT®, SAT®, GMAT®, GRE®, LSAT® and MCAT®.

Free college test prep levels the playing field

studentMark-Yves Gaunin had a specific goal in mind when it came to his SAT score.

“I wanted to break 2,000 by my senior year,” said the Mar Vista High School junior.

He met that goal—and exceeded it.

“Instead I did it by my sophomore year.”

Mark was able to boost his score from 1,570 in a pretest to 2,040 thanks, in part, to two rounds of free SAT preparation he received as part of the Fischer Scholarship program through his high school.

The free test-prep program, which began in 2013, is made possible by William and Dolores Fischer, Imperial Beach residents who wanted to help improve the local community through education. Every semester, the scholarship selects up to 23 academically motivated students to take part in seven weeks of intensive SAT instruction, including a four-hour pretest on the first week followed by three hours every Sunday.

Wendy Hart, the Fischers’ daughter, said the program was born out of her parents’ desire to give back and their belief in the transformative nature of education, especially in underserved neighborhoods such as Imperial Beach. Hart said both came from modest backgrounds and worked hard, saving and investing their money wisely to amass a sizable nest egg.

Her father, who is 94, and her mother, who is 90, live nearby Mar Vista High, Hart said, so they pass by the campus regularly.

“Every time we’d drive by, my dad would say: ‘God, I’d like to do something to help those kids,’” Hart said.

While the Fischers toyed with giving out college scholarships, they ultimately decided they could have a bigger impact on the students and the community by offering in-person SAT prep—a luxury few Mar Vista High families could afford.

“My dad is practical, and he realized the SAT is something that was standing in the way of getting into college, and that these kids were striving against unbearable odds,” Hart said.

Susanna Vega, a guidance counselor at the school, said the majority of students get free or reduced lunch because their family incomes are so low. Also, few of the parents are college graduates themselves so they don’t know about or understand the importance of the SAT or college acceptance.

“There are no words for what this program does,” Vega said.

Still, finding someone to teach the prep classes was easier said than done, Hart said. She spoke with every test-prep company she could find in the region, and their services simply didn’t meet the needs of the students and families of Imperial Beach.

The various testing companies wanted the students to come to their facilities instead of being taught the course at the high school—a big stumbling block because few students would have the time or transportation to make the weekly trek. The companies also wanted to teach more kids, but with fewer hours of instruction; Hart was worried that would undercut the very mission of the scholarship program.

“I just didn’t think they were going to offer the kids enough,” she said.

By a stroke of luck, Hart said, she found out about UC San Diego Extension’s college test-prep offerings, which were being provided as part of its three-week Academic Connections precollegiate summer program. Hart quickly struck a deal with Extension to teach 20-plus students—all of whom must go through a rigorous application process—the ins and outs of taking the SAT.

With the help of the test-prep program, Hart said the majority of the students have achieved more than a 100-point increase in SAT scores, with many students making gains of 200 and 300 points.

One student had completely given up on college, Hart recalled, because he was an abysmal test taker.

“He was doing great work in the community and had great grades but could not take standardized tests,” she said. Through the Fischer Scholarship program, that student was able to increase his score by more than 300 points and is now at San Diego State University, Hart added.

In Mark’s case, Hart said, he begged to be in the program as a freshman. Because of the grade level, Hart said she and her parents were initially apprehensive because they wanted to focus the program on sophomores and juniors. She and her parents, who review each application, were ultimately won over when Mark provided a compelling list of reasons he should be allowed to participate.

On the first go-round, Mark boosted his score by 210 points, scoring a 1,780 on the SAT, but he felt he needed to improve further, so he applied for the Fischer Scholarship program again. Hart said, “He wrote a moving and emotional essay on why he felt he could achieve a much higher score with our help.”

Mark said he realizes the Fischer program has put him closer to his dream of attending a college with a strong engineering curriculum.

“It was definitely important because without it I would not have been prepared for the SAT. I wouldn’t have known what questions to expect,” he said. “Nowadays, your SAT score partly defines where you can go.”

It is for this reason, Hart said, the Fischers remain committed to funding the program because it is leveling the playing field “for this wonderful community of mostly low-income but extremely hard-working and high-expectation students.”

Because of the scholarship program’s success, Hart said she wished more people would invest in similar efforts. She said as far as she knows the program is unique and that there is no other philanthropic effort to provide high-quality test prep to low-income students in either San Diego or Los Angeles. Recently, UC San Diego Extension entered into a partnership with San Diego Unified School District to offer free SAT/ACT prep at 12 local high schools to help students who might not otherwise be able to afford test prep.

Hart said free test prep serves as a great equalizer in college admissions because it “brings up lower-income students to the level where they are armed with the same weapons and benefits” that more affluent students have available to them.

“With this program, little by little, we are changing people’s college choices and, in the process, their lives,” she said.

50 Voices of the Future: Karen Flammer on creating STEAM education opportunities

Karen Flammer

In honor of UC San Diego Extension’s first 50 years, 50 Voices of the Future asks thought leaders about the trends, breakthroughs and social advances they foresee over the next 50 years.

Dr. Karen Flammer didn’t realize she was an anomaly as an aspiring female physicist until her freshman year at UC San Diego, when she discovered there were only two other women in her honors physics class. That’s why Flammer is so enthusiastic about the work she does as the director of education for Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego, inspiring young female and minority students to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

(1) Why is the work you do important?

I feel so passionate that we as educators have to make sure that the next generation of students are scientifically literate; that they have at least a foundational background in math, science, and technology just so they can lead an informed life.

Half of the jobs today in our society require some type of technical background. In the next decade they predict that to be 75 percent. We’re just not going to have the capacity to fill that job force unless we start attracting more students that are currently underrepresented in a lot of the STEM fields.

(2) What are the influential/exciting developments happening in your field now and why?

In his final State of the Union address, President Obama made a plea to Congress to ensure that every student in the country gets hands-on computer science training and math training so that they are set up for success in college and in STEM careers.

And then right after that, he announced the Computer Science for All Initiative, saying that he wants the federal budget to include $4 billion to make sure computer science is taught in schools that serve minorities.

(3) What’s the next big thing?

The next best thing is this work to really target girls and minorities – to get them interested in STEM fields – is now coming from government agencies, corporations, not-for-profits, universities, K-12 schools – not just from grassroots efforts like Sally Ride Science.

Because I think people recognize now that there’s a reason – it’s not just about fairness. In terms of keeping our country a leader in innovation, we need input from diverse populations.

(4) How big of an impact will your field play in shaping the future of the San Diego region and beyond?

This summer we’re launching the Sally Ride Science Junior Academy. The Academy is three weeks of STEAM workshops for middle school and high school girls. (STEAM is just STEM but with the addition of art.) Art is another way to get students engaged in using technology and computers and science.

We use it as an opportunity to expose students to careers that use those skills, letting them see that there are females who fill those professions.

We’re launching another program that’s worldwide. We’re calling it The Constellation: Sally Ride Science Conversations that’s premiering March 1. This is going to be a series of interviews with women throughout the U.C. system in science, technology, engineering, and math, who tell their stories of who inspired them, how they got into the field they’re in, what it’s like in their day-to-day job.

And we’re proud to have that branded with Sally Ride’s name. We’ve interviewed so many female NASA astronauts and all of them attribute their applying to the astronaut program to her. Because she’s the one that broke the barrier.

(5) Hop into your time machine…what does the future look like for this field in 50 years? How can individuals/companies get prepared for what’s next?

My hope is that the population that works in STEM professions reflects our country’s population. If our population in 50 years is roughly 50 percent female and 50 percent male, then that’s reflected in computer science jobs, in engineering jobs.

And the same thing with African-Americans in this country and Latinos. Whatever percentage of the population – they’re filling the jobs – because that translates into equal access, equal opportunity, equal exposure.

The problems that are facing our country now – we’re worried about energy, we’re worried about climate change, we’re worried about water resources and food resources. Unless we’re getting people from all walks of life working on those problems, we’re not going to solve those problems.


Learn more about Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego and explore our other Pre-College programs such as Academic Connections, Reading Skills programs for Children and Adults, and Test Prep for the CT®, SAT®, GMAT®, GRE®, LSAT® and MCAT®.

Karen R. Flammer Photo by Ben Tolo/SDSC

Turning the dream of a college education into a reality

UC San Diego Extension partners with Barrio Logan College Institute on college prep programs


The dream of college can seem daunting — especially for those who are the first in their family to consider the path of higher education.

José A. Cruz, executive director at Barrio Logan College Institute, which provides college tutoring and mentoring starting as early as third grade, said the key is to have students realize the dream is attainable if they are willing to put in the effort.

“We teach students ‘active dreaming’ — have a dream, look forward to it, and look at what you’re doing now to prepare for that dream,” Cruz said.

To enable this “active dreaming,” Barrio Logan College Institute works with the entire family to prepare the students for college through a variety of after-school and summer programs.

In the early years, instructors focus on reading and writing skills. As the students move into middle school, more behavioral education is incorporated to equip students with the tools to resist negative influences that can distract them from their educational goals. In high school, the focus shifts to “college knowledge” to ensure students are choosing the best courses and extracurricular activities to achieve their educational goals and bolster their college applications.

A critical partner in Barrio Logan College Institute’s college preparatory programs is UC San Diego Extension, which presents a wide array of offerings from SAT instruction to summer programs that are designed to help prepare students both academically and socially for college. Every summer UC San Diego Extension runs Academic Connections, a three-week summer program on the UC San Diego Campus as well as a number of week-long courses in New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, and Washington D.C. To open up these transformative experiences to a wide variety of students, UC San Diego Extension offers five scholarship spots for those who attend the Barrio Logan College Institute.

Guillermo Garcia received one of the scholarships to study at the program in Los Alamos, N.M. There he studied geographic features of the region and how rising temperatures were impacting its trees as well as took earth samples in desert and mountain terrains.

“It was one of the best weeks I’ve ever had,” Garcia said. “It also impacted my studies. I wanted to do something with nature and engineering for a long time, and the program really helped me understand what I could do with that passion. When it comes to the future, my imagination is on full blast, thanks to UC San Diego Extension.”

Now a freshman at UC San Diego, Garcia is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering with hopes of continuing on to a Ph.D.

Cruz said Garcia’s experience is what “active dreaming” is all about and its benefits ripple beyond just the individual.

“Barrio Logan College Institute is growing so we can serve more kids and help more communities, but we are also looking at how the students themselves can make an impact on their community,” said Cruz. “Our partnership with UC San Diego Extension is putting our kids into leadership programs and teaching them how to create solutions. It inspires kids from these underserved neighborhoods to see what the college experience is like so that they can tell their friends and family and then share that experience with their communities.”

Find out more about Barrio Logan College Institute here. To learn more about UC San Diego Extension’s pre-collegiate programs, please visit

Academic Connections: When student becomes teacher

Biosphere 2 Program Alum Laurel Brigham Returns To Facility As A Researcher poster

When Academic Connections’ participants came through this year’s Biosphere 2 program, they got to hear from researcher Laurel Brigham, an Academic Connections alumna who was so inspired by her experience, it helped shape her career choices, and educational path.

“My dad has been a huge part of my education, and he encouraged me to attend a summer program to help further my exposure to new and interesting concepts,” said Brigham. “I was immediately drawn to the Biosphere 2 program.”

Biosphere 2 is an Earth systems science research facility located in Oracle, Arizona. It contains five rich and unique biomes including a rainforest, an ocean with a coral reef, mangrove wetlands, savannah grassland, a fog desert, an agricultural system, a human habitat, and below-ground infrastructure. At 3.14 acres, it is the largest closed system ever created.

Brigham spent her time with the program working in the rainforest biome collecting gas samples produced by microbial communities to better understand their response to drought conditions. Today, she is studying ecology at UC San Diego with plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the field. She is currently completing a 10-week stint as a researcher at Biosphere 2, working under the same mentor she had four years ago, while also having the chance to speak with this year’s Academic Connections participants.

“The Academic Connections program was monumental in my decision to pursue environmental science,” said Brigham. “I now work in two ecology labs on campus, which I may not have known I would enjoy had I not attended the program — the idea of being able to ask and answer one’s own questions through data collection and analysis absolutely amazed me.”

“It is an absolute joy for us when we hear about how our programs have helped guide young minds onto paths that spark their passion,” said Ed Abeyta, assistant dean of community engagement. “I remember Laurel when she first joined us and I am thrilled to hear about her plans and success — the field is lucky to have her.”

Academic Connections runs a wide range of programming including a week at Biosphere 2. There are also global environmental leadership and sustainability courses available in Hawaii, New Mexico, and Washington D.C., as well as a full-range of courses offered in San Diego such as neuroscience, robotics, writing, visual arts, and media.

“My advice is to really throw yourself into these programs and get as much out of it as you can,” said Brigham. “It’s only one week long, but it could be one of the best weeks of your life if you let it.”

To learn more about Academic Connections, please visit

Academic Connections welcomes ambassador Cynthia Cortez

High school sophomore is one of nine students receiving a full-ride scholarship to 2015 programming

CynthiaCortezIn the spring of 2015, Cynthia Cortez finished her sophomore year at Holtville High School; for that summer, she headed to campus for UC San Diego Extension’s three-week Global Environmental Leadership and Sustainability Program taking place in partnership with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and Washington D.C.

It’s one of many programs being held as part of UC San Diego Extension’s Academic Connections offerings this summer. Each one will give students the chance to experience campus life and college courses before they arrive as full-time students to UC San Diego, or the school of their choice.

This wasn’t Cortez’s first summer with Academic Connections. In 2014, she participated in the Media Matters program that teaches students how to analyze the way social groups are depicted in popular media.

“Cortez has shown she is a model student, with qualities like passion and enthusiasm that make her a natural leader,” said Ed Abeyta, assistant dean of community engagement. “That’s why we invited her back as an ambassador of UC San Diego Extension for interested Valley students, and to participate in the new Global Environmental Leadership & Sustainability Program on a full scholarship.”

In the three-week program, students begin at Scripps to conduct research before traveling to Washington D.C. to present their findings to government agencies and elected officials. “I think I’m looking forward to the research half the most,” said Cortez. “We’re going to need to work together despite diverse backgrounds, cultures, and experience to arrive at a singular message to take to Washington—so I’ll get to draw on my past experience with Academic Connections as well.”

“I got so much out of Media Matters,” said Cortez. “It really opened my eyes. We can see clearly how different groups—whether set apart by race, economics, or geography—are depicted on screen and start to ask questions about it. And it also helped me with the culture shock of moving away from home. UC San Diego is my first-pick school, and I already feel much more prepared to arrive, thanks to my experience in the dorms, and on campus.”

Cortez was chosen by 400 of her peers to deliver remarks at the program’s closing ceremonies last year. “I’ve had the chance to speak publicly about the program a couple of times now, but to be honest I’m still looking for the words to describe how amazing it was,” she said.

The Academic Connections programs are taught by post-grads, doctoral students, and university professors on campus and feature a wide range of courses including Engineering, Robotics, Audiovisual, Writing, Philosophy, Cognitive Science, and Neuroscience.

“What I’m most excited about is learning how to be a better leader, and also how to communicate my ideas, whatever they may be,” said Cortez. “The opportunities through Academic Connections changed my thinking, and opened my mind. There is so much more out there than what I’ve seen at home.”

TV salutes Academic Connections’ learning and magic: ‘College-level curriculum in academic setting’

Local TV outlets are shining a bright light on UC San Diego Extension’s Academic Connections.

LOGO, ACADEMIC CONNECTIONSThroughout August, Cox Channel 4 is airing a six-minute video that profiles the on-campus program in which 340 top high-school students from throughout the county attended UC San Diego for a five-week immersion session.

Produced last month, the TV feature is part of Channel 4’s annual “Salute to Education” in which top teachers, students and the latest learning programs are highlighted.

“We’re very grateful to Channel 4 for their interest in our programs,” said Ed Abeyta, director of Extension’s K-12 programs. “We’re now able to reach even more students and parents with our message of presenting a college-level curriculum in an academic setting.”

The Channel 4 video is hosted by the station’s Kimberly King, with narration by Jack Gates.

In addition, San Diego 6’s “Wake Up San Diego” recently aired a live segment on Extension’s upcoming youth-enrichment camp, “Magic and the Mind.”

The camp, designed and taught by UC San Diego cognitive science lecturer Dr. Iris Oved with magician Tom Interval, will engage middle- and high-school students in perception, attention, memory, assumptions, reasoning and social cognition.

In addition to studying and performing magic tricks that exploit certain weaknesses in cognitive functions, participants will discuss how the functions play a role in deceiving the mind.

Presented by Extension, the camp will be held Aug. 11-15 at Extension’s UCC, 6256 Greenwich Dr. San Diego, CA 92122 (map, directions).