Mike Brown and his wife, Nancy, have literally helped build a new university with their generosity.
At the University of La Verne’s REACH camp students learn about business, but also discover that taking that big step to a college education is well within their capabilities.
For three weeks each summer, dozens of area high school students live in University of La Verne dorms, eat on campus, and learn from faculty and one another.
This is the sixth year La Verne has offered the REACH business camp, aimed at teaching business skills and piquing interest in higher education.
For students like Jesus Vargas, the experience can be a stepping stone to college; many of the students who attend the camp haven’t thought about continuing on with their education after high school graduation.
“I think REACH is just a life-changing experience. If it wasn’t for REACH, I wouldn’t be in college right now,” said Vargas, 19, who just completed his sophomore year at La Verne. “I never thought about college before REACH.”
The students, from districts in the area, will be on campus through Friday, July 15, when they will participate in a “commencement” ceremony. During their stay, they will be offered a mini-college experience, be challenged to come up with their own idea for a business, and complete a thorough business plan.
At its essence, the camp is about providing hope.
“It transforms lives, not only their lives, but the lives of the families,” said Rita Thakur, Associate Dean, College of Business and Public Management. “These are the kids who don’t think they have the possibility of going to college so many of them don’t even try. Many of them don’t think they have the ability to go to college because college is such a huge step for them.”
About a dozen La Verne faculty members will teach the 52 students, and business people, members of civic groups, La Verne students and others volunteer to help.
“We want to make sure the students are first-generation and came from a family where the parents didn’t get the opportunity to go for higher education,” said Issam Ghazzawi, La Verne Associate Professor of Management. “We really want to make sure the students have the ability to succeed in college.”
The students will work in groups of five to create a business, complete with a business plan that includes arrangements for management, marketing and finances. The students also have to consider licensing, how to run the business for a profit and think about running the business in an ethical way.
The students present their business plans in front of a panel of judges, many of whom are business and community leaders. Four finalists will be chosen; the winning team will win $1,000 and the runner-up team will receive $500.
“I am hoping that toward the end of camp the students feel that college is not impossible. We motivate them to go to college and to feel like they could be successful in a college environment,” Ghazzawi said.
But the camp isn’t all about getting down to business.
Faculty members and volunteers take the students on field trips and organize recreational activities. And, because the camp is in session during the July 4 holiday, the students will be treated to an evening at the Hollywood Bowl complete with a fireworks celebration.
The camp culminates with the commencement ceremony, where this year’s featured speaker is Richard Martinez, Superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District.
Nearly all of the participants of past REACH camps indicated a desire for higher education, Ghazzawi said. Seventy percent indicated that the REACH camp changed their interest in college, and nearly half said they had a desire to own their own business.
Numerous REACH camp graduates have written to Ghazzawi and others to tell them how meaningful the experience was. Graduates have gone on to attend prestigious universities including Columbia and UCLA.
“It kind of motivated me to pursue higher education,” said Marisol Corona, 19, who is going to be a junior at UC Davis. “It was a very wonderful experience.”
Students who attend the REACH camp are going to be enriched and are going to receive many positive influences that will help them move on with their careers and lives, she said.
“I think it was very effective and helpful in letting me know what I want to do in my future,” said Yasir Motiwala, 19, who will be a junior at UC Berkeley in the fall. “I was planning to do pre-med but it directed me toward a business career.”
The REACH camp provided Motiwala with his first experience doing any kind of research. “It gave me a background as to what I need to do and what is required from me,” he said.
After the camp, Ghazzawi follows up to see what the students are doing. Nearly 100 students are already in college and others are in the U.S. Army or undertaking vocational training, he said.
“I feel comfortable that everybody who came here is doing something that is productive,” he said.
Vargas is one example of that. He is a public relations major who works for the College of Business and Public Management. He said he decided to pursue higher education when he was at camp and still turns to Ghazzawi and others for guidance.
“I want to thank everybody in the college of business for all of their help,” Vargas said. “They keep on helping me through my experience in college.”
Thakur said the camp is really about giving back to the community. “What better way to give back than to create dreams?” she said.
While the camp is funded partially by Title V grant money, organizers also have to raise funds to pay for parts of the program. The Title V money runs out next year and Thakur and others hope they can still offer the camp through sponsorships and donations.
“We really need to continue the program because this is what La Verne is all about,” she said. “This is who we are every single day.”