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 Stories for April 8, 1998

Berkeley’s Incentive Awards Program Expands to San Mateo County, Salinas

by Sunny Merik, Public Affairs
posted Apr. 8, 1998

Berkeley’s Incentive Awards Program took a giant step into the South Bay last month, forming a new partnership with the Salinas Union High School District, to provide four-year scholarships to academically talented, economically disadvantaged students.

On March 24, Maryellen Himell, director of development, Office of Undergraduate Affairs, and Salinas Union High School District Superintendent Fernando Elizondo announced the partnership. The announcement came on the heels of another new partnership formed recently with the Sequoia Union School District in San Mateo County.

“These two districts are perfect for our Incentive Program,” said Himell. “They are economically challenged, have bright, hardworking students and are implementing programs to improve classroom technology, build leadership skills and intervene in self-destructive behaviors.

“The Incentive Awards Program has already distributed more than $1 million in scholarships to students throughout San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. I’m excited to be able to bring this program to two new communities.”

Salinas is the fifth school district included in the Incentive Awards Program. A $3.5 million gift from the Gabilan Foundation made the two newest partnerships possible, according to Himell.

Launched in 1992, the Incentive Awards Program began with the dream of bringing a Berkeley education within the grasp of high school students who, despite great socio-economic hardship, exhibit exceptional academic promise and leadership potential. Each high school in the program receives one scholarship per year.

Beginning with 13 schools in San Francisco and only $50,000 in seed funding, the program has grown to offer four-year scholarships to Berkeley for 28 students each year.

Today, students receive $24,000 in scholarship funds, along with intensive on-campus mentoring.

“Unlike most other scholarships, this one not only takes special pains to make sure its recipients graduate, but it asks them to give back to their communities and high schools,” says Roxanne Andersen, Incentive Awards Program coordinator. “The program scholars return to their high schools each year as positive role models to talk to students about college, their own experience at Berkeley, and to mentor others who are struggling with hardship.”

During a few weeks last fall, 41 Incentive Awards scholars visited 20 high schools in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, talking to more than 60 gatherings, helping inspire other young students to strive for a higher education.

Since 1992, the Incentive Awards dream has been realized in the lives of 79 students. Of those who have graduated, some have already gone on to careers in government, industry, the non-profit sector and education. Others have entered medical school or graduate programs across the nation.

Overall, Himell said, the program’s retention rate is 99 percent. She said the median cumulative GPA of the Incentive Award scholars is 3.0.

Scholarship recipients have often overcome the loss of a parent, the stress of immigration, even the hardship of homelessness. Yet, they express hope and determination.

Trinh Ngo, an Incentive Awards Scholar from Wallenberg High School, said, “I began to look at poverty and the hardships of immigration as something I could overcome, as a learning experience and not as a dark, insurmountable obstacle.”

Erika Grove, Incentive Award Scholar from Skyline High School in Oakland, is studying to become a bilingual elementary school teacher. She said, “Helping others not only makes me feel extremely good about myself, but also as though I could make a difference in this world.”

Nate Carroll Jr., a counselor in Student Life Advising Services, has been an Incentive Awards counselor since the beginning. “These kids have overcome hardship and obstacles throughout their lives,” he said. “They have a hunger and drive because they’re often the first in their families to go to college. They’re very hard-working, very focused, and the program provides them with financial assistance, orientation to campus and the college experience, academic advising and other assistance.”

Carroll, who has been a counselor at Berkeley since 1989, said every student in the Incentive Awards Program has a story that inspires.

The program encompasses San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Sequoia Union (which includes East Palo Alto, East Menlo Park and other mid-peninsula communities) and, now, Salinas Union School District.

“We don’t expand into a community until we have a significant endowment dedicated to it,” said Himell. “Since 1992, the program has raised more than $17 million, all private money from donors who want to foster talent, imagination and energy among youngsters undaunted by hardship.”

Himell said the Bernard Osher Foundation’s gifts of $5.5 million laid a firm foundation on which the program could build.

Current Incentives Award Scholar Duc Le, from Lowell High School in San Francisco, is majoring in social welfare and credits the program with his choice of major.

“I believe my decision to major in social welfare is a result of being around such an inspirational group of people,” he said. “Social welfare I hope will allow me to serve my community when I am done with my college and graduate school education. I want to give back what the Incentive Awards has given to me, a sense of renewed hope.”

For information on the Incentive Awards Program, check the website or call 643-5810.

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