Project Overview

A college access and academic enrichment program geared toward underrepresented Latina/o high school students from East Los Angeles.

Identifying the Problem

California is home to the largest number of Latinos in the United States, and they have become the largest ethnic/racial group in California. Despite these numbers, Latinos are less likely to have a college degree than any other group in the state. While two-thirds graduate high school, only one-third complete the requirements making them eligible to directly apply to four-year colleges and universities. A severe lack of opportunity, support, and guidance is jeopardizing the future of those within this underrepresented community, especially undocumented youth.

Javier is intimately familiar with this problem, having grown up in East Los Angeles and attended J.A. Garfield High School (GHS) in East LA, home to predominantly mixed status and multi-generation low-income Mexican families. Although East LA is renowned as a bastion of Mexican and Chicana/o culture, and infamous for gang violence, Javier’s memories are framed by tattered books, run-down buildings, and a 50% graduation rate. As an undergraduate at UCLA, he noticed the disproportionately low number of Latina/o students on campus. The lack of opportunity for people like him became more obvious when he returned to East LA after graduation. At that moment, Javier decided he wanted to help a new generation of GHS students overcome and dismantle the same systemic educational and economic inequalities he faced. He wants to present college as a realistic option for East LA youth while helping them obtain the tools required to transform their lives and their community.

Creating A Solution

In an effort to help bridge the Latina/o higher education attainment gap in California, Javier created CAP @ UCLA. It is a college access and academic enrichment program geared toward students from East LA, specifically J. A. Garfield High School students. The program hoped to provide twelve low-income Latina/o students in the 9th and/or 10th grade with the knowledge and guidance necessary to attend college, but only six students applied. The small number of applicants indicated the program’s failure to attract students who were not already placed on the college track. Nonetheless, the program succeeded in reaching underrepresented students who never considered college a realistic option, and who are now being guided towards that goal.

CAP @ UCLA took place on the UCLA campus over the course of four Saturdays in October 2015. Each all-day Saturday event, called a Saturday academy, was organized around a theme relevant to the lives of the participating students. Every Saturday academy began with a lecture by a university professor hoping to educate students about relevant social justice issues and inspire them to take action in their community. For example, Professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez spoke to the students about U.S. immigration history, while Professor Gaye Theresa Johnson spoke about anti-racism coalitions between Mexican Americans and African Americans in Los Angeles. These lectures enabled high school students to experience college-level lectures first hand, and even present the opporunity for a UCLA history graduate student to gain lecture experience.

The lectures were followed by ice-breaker activities, educational activities, and college access workshops. All student participants learned about the following subjects:

  • A-G Requirements
  • Admissions & Financial Aid
  • How to Write Personal Statements
  • How to Find and Apply for Scholarships
  • How to do Research (led by a UCLA librarian)

All student participants attended the following events: 

  • A STEM Career Panel
  • A College Access Alumni Panel
  • A Person of Color (POC) UCLA Campus Tour

Furthermore, these students were matched with mentors (many of whom grew up in East LA, attended J. A. Garfield High School, and graduated from 4-year colleges or universities) during the lunch hour. Their shared struggles and backgrounds allowed students to develop good relationships with their mentors. As the director of CAP @ UCLA, Javier will continue to follow up with these students and their mentors for the duration of their high school careers.

Lessons Learned

The most important lesson Javier learned while developing this project was to have the courage to ask others for help. If others have skills you do not have, then ask them to teach you or explain how they developed their skills. Ask people you know, ask people you do not know. You will be surprised by their responses and willingness to help in unexpected ways.

Javier also suggests being flexible without compromising your vision. You will inevitably face obstacles—whether legal, financial, or logistical—outside of your control, but you should focus on how to adapt your project in ways that remain true to the essence of your vision. These types of programs also require an incredible amount of mental and physical exertion, so it is important to practice self care and work with a team or at least one other person. Sharing the workload is beneficial because it reduces stress, allows you to get feedback on your ideas, and enables others to feel a personal investment in the project. Your efforts become a community effort.

Get Involved!

Although the program has concluded for the inaugural 2015-2016 CAP @ UCLA cohort, you can help by sharing new workshop ideas or by donating to future GoFundMe campaigns! 

Programs such as CAP @ UCLA often do not produce immediate results, but we can already proudly boast a 2016 Warren Christopher Scholarship award winner. The scholarship provides $20,000 to 10-15 outstanding sophomores in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The students selected for this scholarship face real risks that their education could be adversely affected by circumstances beyond their control. Christopher Scholars often attend high schools with exceptionally high drop-out rates and living circumstances ravaged by drugs, violence, and poverty. The young woman who won this award thanked CAP @ UCLA for helping her understand how to compose a personal statement expressing who she is and where she comes from.

Additionally, another young woman from the inaugural CAP @ UCLA cohort was provided with an AP World History Review book and earned a 5 on the exam. These achievements demonstrate that college access programs can be more effective than we can possibly imagine. You can contact Javier to get involved with helping younger generations succeed!


Initially, Javier did not anticipate that the project would require much funding. As the project grew in scope, he determined each Saturday Academy would be made possible with $300. The $300 would cover weekly printing, breakfast, lunch, and beverage costs. These weekly expenses were supplemented by the one-time purchase of folders, name tags, pens, and completion certificates provided to student participants. 

In order to cover these expenses, Javier began a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $1200. The campaign exceeded expectations and raised $1500 with generous donations from family, friends, East Los Angeles community members, and the Humanity in Action community. Additionally, Javier composed a funding proposal seeking reimbursement for the costs of a single Saturday Academy from the UCLA History Graduate Student’s Association (HGSA). This unexpected funding surplus enabled the program to provide $50 scholarships to all six student participants—the majority of whom are children of Mexican immigrants and live below the poverty threshold established by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

Transportation costs were alleviated by parents and mentors who volunteered to drive student participants to and from the UCLA campus. Furthermore, Humanity in Action provided student participants with free Humanity in Action notebooks. Remaining funds have been saved and will be allocated towards future programs and events.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

Denmark Denmark 2014

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