July 03, 2017

Conquering College Bound Academy


For two weeks this June, Betsy Peña, a program coordinator with the Tiger Woods Foundation’s Earl Woods Scholar Program, took part in her first College Bound Academy as an instructor to 42 rising high school seniors from the Anaheim Union High School District. Betsy, a recent college grad herself, had the opportunity to lead workshops, activities and discussions all geared towards helping her students better navigate the college admissions process. Rounding out the program, Betsy and her colleagues took their students on excursions at the Claremont Colleges as well as had them participate in Disneyland’s Youth Education Series (YES) Program. As she reflects, the College Bound Academy experience proved to be just as rewarding for Betsy as it was for her kids!

On the last day of College Bound Academy (CBA), my colleague, Senior Program Manager Denisse Jover, asked me, “Is there anything you’d like to add Ms. Peña?” In that moment, I stood there in disbelief that these two-weeks of CBA had passed by in the blink of an eye. It was then that I thought back to the first moments Denisse and I began discussing and planning for CBA. She dedicated herself to revamping the content as well as the activities to ensure that our students remained engaged. Then, before I knew it, day 1 arrived and we had our students walking through the doors to the auditorium; most of them too shy to speak in any pitch higher than a whisper.

Fortunately, over the course of the next two weeks that changed.

During the program, I had the opportunity to connect with students who found themselves in a similar situation that I was in when I was applying to college. Like our College Bound Academy students, I attended a high school in the Anaheim Union High School District. I even had some of the same teachers they’ve had. Most importantly, I understand and relate to the obstacles they face as first-generation college students. As a first-generation college student, you encounter this college maze, which has no clear starting point, no clean pathway to the center and a multitude of possible roadblocks.


As an instructor, I witnessed how increasingly eager they became to learn more about the college application process. Whether we were in or out of the classroom, they approached me with questions or concerns they had. Their questions ranged from college essays to fly-in programs, but many also asked for tips on how to discuss or explain their college options with their families. Their stories revealed their tenacity, ambition and drive to accomplish their goal of attaining a higher education.


From my first-hand experience, I can say that the information and guidance provided through College Bound Academy truly does have the potential to change the trajectory of a student. I saw this occur on the day of our financial aid workshop. My students came back from the first part of the workshop with a newfound knowledge on how financial aid is awarded among various institutions. Prior to this workshop, many were unaware of the vast amount of financial aid opportunities that are available. From there, they began to reconsider schools they thought weren’t going to be a financially feasible option.


As we went through each workshop, I found myself imagining how different the path to higher education could have been for my peers and me if we would have had a program like CBA available to us. For many of us, we were told what we needed for college, but there was a definite disconnect as to how to complete these tasks. Figuring out where to begin can be the hardest part; it was for many of my peers.


Being a part of this program for the first time has served as a bold reminder of how crucial and relevant college prep and college readiness programs still are. Trying to navigate through the college application process is difficult enough and doing so with little to no guidance can make it that much more intimidating to get started.

Knowing that as an instructor I have provided them with a foundation to build upon as they apply for college this fall has been one of the most gratifying experiences I have had here at the TGR Learning Lab. I cannot wait to see how our content will evolve for College Bound Academy next summer!

Redefining what it means to be a champion.