Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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Guardian Scholars at the ceremony. Guardian Scholars at the ceremony.
 


Finding a Home at SDSU

The SDSU Guardian Scholars Program celebrated its largest-ever graduating class.
By Mallory Black
 

“SDSU has really changed my life. I’ve really grown through the Guardian Scholars Program, it has opened doors for me and helped me develop comfort in telling my story and not have any shame.”

Five years ago, Stefany Rubio never imagined she would be graduating from college, let alone preparing to enter a Ph.D. program in the fall.

After spending her high school years in foster care, Rubio applied to the San Diego State University Summer Bridge Program, which introduces incoming freshmen to the university and is led by the Educational Opportunity Program, or EOP. She said she was drawn to EOP, and to SDSU, by its Guardian Scholars Program, which offers support to former foster and homeless youth in their pursuit of a college degree.

“No other program compared to SDSU and Guardian Scholars,” said Rubio, a 22-year-old biochemistry major. “If I went there, I knew I would have a support system. I felt like they wanted me here. No one else was offering that to me.”

On Tuesday night, Rubio was one of 20 Guardian Scholars, the largest number of students in the program’s history, to be honored at a pre-graduation celebration at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center. In May she will graduate with her bachelor’s degree  and will begin a biomedical sciences and engineering Ph.D. program at the University of California, Santa Cruz this fall.

The SDSU Guardian Scholars Program — which has long been supported by SDSU donors — helps students exiting foster care, those who are wards of the state, and unaccompanied homeless youth achieve their dream of graduating from college. Program mentors help students with the transition to adulthood and college life, as well as provide support through scholarships and on-campus housing. The housing piece is incredibly important to most Guardian Scholars.

“One thing people don’t realize is [homeless students] don’t have a place to go back to like everyone else,” Rubio said. “With Guardian Scholars, you have a guaranteed place to live during the summer and breaks.”

A native Californian, Rubio said her parents divorced when she was 9 years old, and her mother died of cancer when she was 12. Relatives cared for Rubio and her sister until high school, but the girls were eventually placed into foster care.

“As I look back now, San Diego State has really changed my life,” she said. “I’ve really grown through the Guardian Scholars Program, it has opened doors for me and helped me develop comfort in telling my story and not have any shame.”

She admits she had doubts about college at times, but added that the program’s mentors helped her push forward. “The Guardian Scholars program will do anything to make sure you have what you need to achieve your academic goals. The resources are there, you just have to pursue them.”

In addition to being a Guardian Scholar herself, Rubio also served as a student mentor for incoming Guardian Scholars and initiated its student advisory board in 2013.

“Stefany has flourished and grown to be the young adult that she is now — confident, strong and fearless,” said Josephine Mojica, assistant director of the Guardian Scholars Program. “She has taken advantage of every opportunity to participate in internships, events and activities related to research and biochemistry and cultivated relationships with her professors.”

Rubio said one professor in particular, Tom Huxford, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at SDSU, took her under his wing as she researched molecular cellular and developmental biology in his lab.

Huxford said Rubio and another student have been researching an important enzyme that regulates cell survival.

“She’s trying to understand the basic chemistry that allows a cell to decide whether to live or die, which could help us survive viral infections better and stop cancers from growing,” Huxford said. “She’s a hardworking student and has the potential right now to be the world’s expert at whatever she chooses.”

Next steps

Rubio’s ultimate goal is to be a researcher at the National Institutes of Health or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “These are big goals, but it’s where I want to end up,” Rubio said.

Last winter, Rubio participated in a study abroad program at the University of Oxford in England. “I learned so much in those three weeks. It was eye opening. I was blown away by all the different ideas they have about Western civilization,” said Rubio, who received support to study abroad through Guardian Scholars.

In the future, Rubio also said she wants to help more foster care youth in Southern California connect with Guardian Scholars.

“If we can get to these students early on, it can change how they see college,” Rubio says. “Most foster kids don’t know what resources they have available to them. I can connect with them, and I don’t want to stray away from that.”