For young adults aging out of the foster youth system, the future can be daunting. They may face unique financial and life challenges that make it more difficult to stay in school, which means they are more likely than any other group of students to drop out of college or complete a bachelor’s degree.
At Irvine Valley College (IVC), however, its robust Guardian Scholars program offers meaningful support to students who are or were in the foster care system. They qualify for benefits like early registration, specialized counseling, financial assistance, and help with things like applying for financial aid and scholarships. The goal is to help keep these students from slipping through the cracks.
“My experience at IVC created a lasting impact on me because it allowed me to build a strong academic and personal foundation that I will benefit from for the rest of my life,” former IVC student and foster youth Solei Prats-Mascia says. “One of my favorite things about IVC that I could not find anywhere else was the amazing community of faculty that cares about their students.”
Prats-Mascia, who is moving on to a four-year school this fall, specifically cites the Guardian Scholars and EOPS programs, which she says made her feel recognized as a student and took action to help her achieve success. “In general, IVC has always exceeded my expectations and advocated for me more than I could have ever asked for,” Prats-Mascia says. “Without a doubt, my Guardian Scholars experience has to be the most memorable and rewarding experience I’ve had at IVC. Guardian Scholars arranged me with the guidance I needed to maneuver through college because they will do what it takes to make sure you feel confident in your educational experience. Although my favorite part was meeting with my Guardian Scholar counselor three times a semester. As a result, this allowed me to stay on track with my degree and complete the requirements I needed to transfer to Cal State Long Beach.”
She says that out of everyone she interacted with at IVC, Guardian Scholars counselor Lizett Bobadilla had the most impact on her life. “Without question, Lizett cares so much for her students but she will do whatever it takes to make sure they succeed,” Prats-Mascia says. “In my case, Lizett was someone I could go to in any time of need and I always left feeling more inspired and motivated than before. Overall, Lizett always delivered counsel that benefited me academically and mentally which created a positive influence on my performance throughout college. I wholeheartedly thank Lizett for everything she has done for me because I truly believe that I would not have been able to accomplish what I have at IVC without her.”
Prats-Mascia’s path to college was bumpy, but she credits her experiences with giving her the inspiration she needed to push ahead.
“Before arriving at IVC, I had just entered the foster care system in early 2018 during my last semester of high school,” Prats-Mascia says. “I had to finish the year at an alternative high school due to missing too many credits at my original school and felt disappointed in myself that I did not get to graduate with my friends and class. Thankfully, my transition to foster care gave me the motivation to change my mindset for the better and pursue higher education.”
The change was immediate. When Prats-Mascia graduated from high school in June 2018, she was awarded her first scholarship. She said she “felt so proud of myself I knew that this was a pattern I wanted to continue. Following my graduation, I enrolled in IVC ready to take on my school career!”
Prats-Mascia began attending IVC that fall to study child development. “I chose this major because I’ve always had a passion for working with children but my experience in the foster care system made my passion grow further,” she said. “This is because the foster care system provided me with an overwhelming amount of support that gave me many tools and resources to help me succeed. I was so grateful for their support and continue to be so. Therefore, I would love to one day give back this experience to a child or a family in need.”
Prats-Mascia will begin studying for her bachelor’s in child development and family studies at Cal State Long Beach this fall. “I will continue my EOPS and Guardian Scholar journey at Cal State Long Beach and look forward to the next chapter of my higher education,” she says. “Although it is a bittersweet moment for me to say goodbye to IVC, I cannot wait to experience the coming opportunities my higher education will continue to offer!”
Prats-Mascia has several recommendations for IVC students like herself. “My advice for current and potential Guardian Scholars students, as well as other students, is to take advantage of the resources that are there for us and to create connections with the faculty and programs,” she says. “Making those connections will provide you with opportunities and support that are special to you and your needs. Also do not be afraid to tell them any questions or concerns you may be having because they most likely will have a solution for you.”
Problems and difficulties can be reframed as inspiration, she says. “Use your challenges as motivation because without them you would not be able to appreciate your successes. We all have the ability to accomplish our goals. It is just a matter of creating that mindset for yourself and surrounding yourself with people that have the same intentions for you. That’s why I encourage students to get involved where they can, because that’s where they will find the people and resources that positively inspire and support their educational experiences.“
For more information on the Guardian Scholars program, visit their webpage.