About Us

History of the Nicholas Academic Centers

In the early 1990s, Superior Court Judge Jack K. Mandel learned that many students at  Santa Ana Unified School District’s (SAUSD) high schools were studying outside on the pavement once classes were done for the day. The reason, he discovered, was because the school district could not afford to keep their libraries open; and, there was no place at home for the students to study.

Concerned, Judge Mandel persuaded the then district superintendent to allow him to volunteer at Santa Ana High School and keep the library open from 3:30 PM to 6:00 PM. During the decade following, Judge Mandel would conclude his court cases at the Orange County Courthouse and end each work day by driving over to Santa Ana High School to supervise and mentor youth in the library.

Bolstered by this after-school mentoring, students flourished. However, many lacked the resources or support to attend college. Judge Mandel worked with students, guidance counselors, and colleges to get many of these deserving students into four-year colleges. The youth he worked with were dubbed the “The Judge’s Kids” by colleges and the media.

Upon learning of Judge Mandel’s philanthropic work, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III decided that these kinds of “incubator” programs could make the difference between success and failure for young people. At the time Judge Mandel, who was retired from the bench, was named the first Executive Director of the Education Foundation and charged with identifying a team to help him create and launch an after school academic center that replicated the success of his “Judge’s Kids” efforts.

Judge Mandel entrusted three of his “Judge’s Kids” program graduates with the responsibility of creating and launching the Nicholas Academic Centers: Hugo Gutierrez, Rosa Diaz, and Rocio Chavez. The first Nicholas Academic Center was launched in January 2008 and it graduated a class of 24 scholars in June 2009.

Since inception, the program has grown from one to three centers after it entered into an official partnership with the Santa Ana Unified School District to open a center inside Valley High School in 2009 and a third center inside Century High School in 2016. The centers have graduated 2,070 students over the course of 15 years. On average, 99% of graduates have enrolled directly into college after graduating high school, 75% choosing to enroll at a 4-year university.

Currently, the Nicholas Academic Centers provide after school college access and success services to 500 students, 95% of which are Latino and First-Generation. The centers also provide over $2 million dollars in scholarships to its graduates on an annual basis. Services provided by the Nicholas Academic Centers are made possible through the generosity of Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III and the Henry T. Nicholas, III Foundation. We would not be able to work with as many students without their support.