Program coordinator and alumna Makeda Bostic  meets with Renaissance Scholars in 2015.
CPP Magazine

Against The Odds

Renaissance Scholars Helps Steer Foster Youth to Success

By Martha Groves

Since she was a teen, Karla Cebrian has defied the odds.

At the vulnerable age of 15, she landed in foster care after her mother’s struggle with alcoholism resulted in the loss of the family’s home, and Child Protective Services nixed the girl’s plan to live with her older boyfriend and his parents.

Cebrian bounced to three foster care homes before arriving, with a 3-month-old daughter, at a Tustin shelter for teen moms. Juggling motherhood and studies, she earned an associate degree and then applied to Cal Poly Pomona. Her history in the foster system caught the attention of the university’s Renaissance Scholars, a program that helps guide former foster youth through their college years to achieve the goal of graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

“It was definitely a life-changer,” says Cebrian (’19, sociology), now 26. “Renaissance Scholars made me feel at home and welcomed. I met with an educational counselor who helped to create my schedule and map out my journey through Cal Poly Pomona.”

The program allows participants to register ahead of the pack for classes, making it easier for them to complete required courses and sign up for electives. The program provides workshops, mentoring, tutoring, life-skills seminars, housing and additional financial aid.

Founded in 2002, Renaissance Scholars receives a wide range of support. Donors include longtime Cal Poly Pomona supporters Joel and Mary Benkie, Angell Foundation, the Children’s Fund, Inc., Vicky Chang, the In-N-Out Burger Foundation, Art and Sarah Ludwick (honorary doctorate recipients in 2010), the U.S. Bank Foundation, and Kent Valley, a Cal Poly Pomona Philanthropic Foundation board member.

Makeda D. Bostic (’05, psychology), the program coordinator and a member of the inaugural cohort, understands how valuable the support can be for participants, who  are typically first-generation college students and have endured unstable and traumatic backgrounds.

Academically, the odds are stacked against foster youth. Nationwide, fewer than 10 percent attend college, and fewer than 3 percent graduate from a four-year university, according to Casey Family Programs, a foundation focused on foster care and child welfare. Since 2013, about 75 percent of freshmen graduate within six years, and 100 percent of transfers graduate within three. From an initial group of 10, the program has grown and now serves 60 students each year with more than 250 participants through the years.

Cebrian found a haven in Renaissance Scholars in more ways than one. After graduating last December, she took a temporary job assisting Bostic with workshops and compiling and analyzing student assessments. She subsequently became a part-time/temporary program specialist, working with Bostic to oversee peer mentors for the 2020-21 academic year.

“I know what it is to struggle,” Cebrian says. “It really did shape me into the person I am today. My heart is in helping students, people who are low income and underserved.” 

Main photo caption: Program coordinator and alumna Makeda Bostic meets with Renaissance Scholars in 2015.