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EOP, Guardian Scholars alumni panel highlights Black excellence

In celebration of Black History Month, the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and Guardian Scholars hosted an alumni panel of first generation students to discuss their unique journeys and provide advice to students.

Wednesday’s panel consisted of four CSULB alumni with experience in EOP, Guardian Scholars or the Black Resource Center. The EOP program offers support services to “historically low-income and first generation college students” while Guardian Scholars assist current and former foster youth.

Panelists included Justin Hatchett, Kyari Cail, Cynthia Ray de la Vega and Deondray Woods, who all shared their personal challenges when arriving at The Beach.

“I’m a nontraditional college student and something that could’ve taken me four years took me much longer because I faced many challenges and setbacks,” Woods said. He is a fall 2022 graduate with a bachelors in sociology. “I didn’t know what kind of resources were available to me.”

Cail, a 2017 graduate with a bachelors in political science and a masters in counseling, shared how her first years of college were impacted by her experience with housing insecurity.

“[Homelessness] was something I always kept to myself,” Cail said. “School was my escape, my outlet. I just needed to find a community and for me, it was my village that got me through.”

Finding community was a big theme touched on by the panel, as many of the panelists found resources through EOP and Guardian Scholars to help their education journey.

Ray de la Vega, a current masters student and graduate with a bachelors in social work shared the impact EOP had on her efforts to pursue work experiences.

“As someone who was previously incarcerated, it was difficult for me to figure out where I could get license, or internships,” de la Vega said. “There were other people in EOP who had similar barriers. The most important thing that has helped me is that experience with other students.”

Project Rebound, a program to support formerly incarcerated students was also highlighted during the panel.

64-year-old Kenneth Sr. a current student and attendee of the panel spoke on how all aspects of his identity, including the 27 years he served in prison, have become his motivating force.

“Those vulnerabilities are my strengths,” Kenneth said. “I celebrate being in Project Rebound. I celebrate being a veteran. I celebrate these things because we can’t let them hold us back.”

The panelists also provided advice to current students as well as the ways they were able to make it far in higher education.

“I learned to walk around like I’m supposed to be here, to be able to go to campus with my head held high,” Hatchett, a 2020 graduate said. “I earned my way here and I understand the privilege of getting a higher education.”

“Find your rhythm,” Cail said. “It’s going to shift. I had to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. But now I’m comfortable with being in my own rhythm.”

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