When Justin Gonzalez stepped on the campus of California State University, Northridge the morning of July 27, he was openly wondering about his future.
A 16-year-old attending Los Angeles Leadership Academy, he’s a first baseman/center fielder on his high school’s baseball team. He is also a participant in Dodgers RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), a program within the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation. Dodgers RBI is a baseball/softball youth development program for ages 5-18 that simultaneously aims to: increase participation in the sport and use sports participation as an engagement tool to increase access to education, literacy, health, wellness, and recreational resources in some of Los Angeles’ most underserved communities.
That’s what brought Gonzalez to CSUN on this warm summer day, the second day in 2017 that saw more that 100 young people participate in college tours tailored to them. As he walked the campus and learned about the university, then sat for informational sessions that lifted the veil on what it took to go to college and work toward a degree, Gonzalez started to see his future take form.
“Before I came here, I didn’t really want to go to college, but the mentors, the questions that they answered for me made me really want to go to college,” said Gonzalez, who visited CSUN through Montecito Heights Recreation Center. “It’s a big part of my dream. My mom wants me to do it. I want to make her proud.”
Making college seem more attainable was the goal for the Dodgers RBI days at CSUN. Representatives from CSUN worked with counterparts from the Dodgers Foundation to prepare a day that would be informational and impactful for the young people. The goal was to have these young people see that college could be a reality for them.
“Education is such an important aspect of our Dodgers RBI program,” said Nichol Whiteman, executive director of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation. “We want all participants to see college as accessible. We want to expose them to campuses like CSUN, which not only have excellent academic programs but are leaders in inclusivity. Our partnership means more youth can and will see themselves in a place that they thought was not possible.”
Vanessa Guzman, 17, was another student touched by the program. Guzman is entering her senior year at Academia Avance Charter High School in Highland Park, where she’s a catcher on her high school softball team. She said she wanted to learn more about the college majors available to her, specifically nursing.
While on the CSUN campus tour, many of the participants like Guzman admired the Delmar T. Oviatt Library, the Matador Bookstore and several academic buildings. She was one of many students fascinated and visibly impressed as they walked into the state-of-the-art Student Recreation Center.
The students also learned about financial aid and scholarship opportunities that could be available to help offset the cost of their education. Many of the students said they were pleasantly surprised that this aid was more accessible than they had guessed prior to the visit.
“It’s a big part of my dream, going to college and being the first one to graduate in my family,” Guzman said, adding that it was important to be on campus with young people from the Dodgers RBI program because she was “around the kids who all want to achieve better.”
Walking around CSUN was an important part of the day, to make college seem more tangible. Tour guides from CSUN’s Student Outreach and Recruitment Department and the administrators who chaperoned the young people shared about their own college journeys to show how higher education was a possibility for the students.
Christian Oliva, a recreation coordinator at Montecito Heights Recreation Center, shared his own experiences as a California State University, Los Angeles alumnus. Oliva stressed the difference a college education can make in a young person’s life.
“Listening about scholarships, financial aid and loans, it’s become more possible than it was a week ago, because of this partnership with the Dodgers, CSUN and the RBI program,” Oliva said.
One person mixing Matador Pride into her work on this day was Brittany Polk ’15 (Theatre). Bringing young people to her alma mater was especially important to her because she is now the recreation leader at Roosevelt Park, which also brought a contingent of Dodgers RBI participants. Polk wanted to show the youngsters she’s working with that she was a “living example” of someone who came from their same circumstances, worked hard and was now back in her old community helping the next generation do the same through the Dodgers RBI program.
“The majority of them, this is their first time on a college campus,” Polk said. “We talk about going to college just to further their possibilities. By them coming on the actual tour and seeing it in action, and to see me and how far I’ve come, the college tour is very important with the Dodgers RBI program because it gives the kids a visual of their dreams right here in person.”