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Director of Higher Education Services Earns National Recognition

The doors had just been unlocked, the curtains raised, and the lights turned on during a chilly Southern California winter morning at NAC 1. Maria Cortes, Director of Higher Education Services, was performing her usual routine of checking emails when she received the news of a lifetime. “I was getting ready to meet with the Higher Ed Team when I opened up an email sent the night before by Maria Furtado, Executive Director at Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL).” The message brought with it a wave of shock and excitement. “Am I getting nominated? Or, am I receiving an award?” That was exactly what was going on in Cortes’s head as she was overcome by a surge of emotions. “I re-read the email to make sure I had it right before I realized I had been awarded.” She had been chosen as one of the recipients of the 2016 Counselors That Change Lives Award, the first time Cortes was recognized at the national level.
The Counselors That Change Lives Award is only granted to 8 high school counselors nationwide every year. Its recipients are recognized as counselors who have adopted CTCL ideals, “Helping students frame their search beyond the ratings and rankings to find a college that provides the foundation for a successful and fulfilling life.” Loren Pope, retired New York Times education editor and journalist, carefully analyzed 42 colleges and wrote a book to dispel popularly held myths and he challenged conventional wisdom about choosing the best college to attend. The book, with the same name as the organization, inspired the colleges and universities mentioned inside to work together to promote this philosophy. Colleges That Change Lives, Inc. was formally organized in 1998, independent of Lauren Pope and his publisher.
“Receiving an award of this gravity means a lot to me. It brings with it a lot of positivity because I devote so much of my time to the students, and getting recognized on the national level is pretty amazing,” said Cortes, fighting back tears of joy. “To me, this award is not only a reflection of my work, but the dedication the staff at the NAC have to help students.” Maria’s willingness to spread such recognition reflects greatly on her humble and charitable personality.
On any given day at the NAC, it isn’t unusual to find Maria congratulating scholars on their accomplishments. “I am very proud of you” and “I know you can do it” are just a couple phrases Cortes has in her arsenal to encourage students to overcome boundaries and succeed wherever in the world they may be.
When asked what aspect of her duties she likes the most, she responded, “One of my favorite aspects in my role is reading their personal statements because it brings forth a different dynamic.” Cortes continued, “It gives me a window of opportunity to understand where they come from.”
The college application process can be confusing to students who are new to this phase in their search for an institution of higher learning. Students have to balance the workload that comes with their senior year of high school along with college applications, scholarships, and understanding financial aid. Because of this, the NAC’s Higher Education team is always working closely with scholars, mentoring them every step of the way. With the focused leadership of Maria Cortes, scholars have been granted acceptance to prestigious national and international institutions.
Our NAC scholars have graduated from and/or attend 10 of the 42 CTCL Schools. In alphabetical order, those colleges are: Allegheny College, Birmingham-Southern College, Denison University, Hampshire College, Hope College, Juniata College, Kalamazoo College, Knox College, Saint Mary’s College, and Wabash College.
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Chapman University’s Dr. Carty Welcomes NAC Scholars to Her Classroom

It was an unusual national holiday; school was out, but NAC scholars found themselves sitting in a Chapman University classroom alongside a dozen college students. The day was Monday, January 18, a holiday dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader in the African American Civil Rights Movement. Fittingly, the lecture was part of a Sociology Interterm course focused on Social Stratification that walked students through different dimensions of inequalities of class and race in America. Associate Professor of Sociology at Chapman University, Dr. Victoria Carty, introduced the NAC scholars before Chapman students gave presentations and shared their findings from assigned chapters of Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
In the book, Michelle Alexander, Associate Professor of Law at Ohio State University and civil rights advocate, discusses issues specific to African-American males and mass incarceration in the United States today. Up until 1965, Jim Crow laws were a set of state and local laws enforcing racial segregation in the United States.
Chapman student Callan Keeter opened up the series of presentations and discussed the first chapter in the book about the “Rebirth of Caste,” which reviews racial and social control in the United States, past and present. Another Chapman student, Kendra, discussed the second chapter of the book, titled, “The Lockdown,” which describes how the “War on Drugs” has expanded political powers and given incentives to the police, negatively impacting those who become ensnared by the prison system. During the discussion portion of Kendra’s presentation, NAC scholar Carlos Gonzalez stated, “Governments are focused too much on punishing rather than helping inmates find rehabilitation clinics or programs that better them.”
To close the presentations, Chapman student Kathleen Knight discussed chapter 3, “The Color of Justice,” which revealed how people of color are treated unfairly in the criminal justice system through a “picking and choosing” form of discretion.
After the classroom presentations and discussions, all of the students walked across the hall to the third floor patio of Beckman Hall and Argyros School of Business and Economics. There, NAC scholars and Chapman students shared their life stories with one another over a meal. “I hope that this experience helps etch at that wall that is often put up,” stated Carol Sandow, a member of the Chapman class of 2016, referring to the lack of incentive to invite curious high school students to a live college classroom setting.
NAC Scholar Sebastian Ayala said that Dr. Carty’s willingness to open up a classroom on her day off shows how forward thinking she is. In his own words, “A professor doing a lesson during a holiday is pretty significant, especially because not every professor would be open to that idea.”
Chapman University is ranked #7 by U.S. News & World Report as the best college in the Western portion of the United States. At Chapman, Dr. Carty focuses on social movements in the United States, Mexico, and Panama. Her interests are in public sociology, specifically regarding issues on immigration and homelessness in Orange County.
Click Here for a video highlight of the event
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NAC Alumni Return as Mentors at 5th Annual Holiday Potluck & Alumni Panel

On Tuesday, December 29, more than 350 NAC alumni and scholars filled the Valley High School library to listen to a group of panelists at the 5th Annual Holiday Potluck & Alumni Panel. Some of the topics covered included managing money, adjusting to culture shock, and balancing academic and social life, to name a few. The gravity of the event was immense as current NAC scholars learned firsthand about college life from alumni who come from their same community. After the panel, students enjoyed a “potluck,” this year catered by a professional “taquero” and “elotero,” who also provided “raspados” and “churros,” popular foods in the local area. The event also allowed alumni to catch up with one another while sharing a good meal during the potluck portion of the event.
This year’s panelists included a wide range of NAC Alumni that have attended local state systems as well as private colleges across the nation. The panelists are as follows:
Alejandra Dominguez – NAC Class of 2014 – University of California San Diego
Ana Monjaras – NAC Class of 2013 – Humboldt State University
Abraham Rodriguez – NAC Class of 204 – Denison University
Fara Rodriguez – NAC Class of 2012 – Connecticut College
Nancy Roman – NAC Class of 2013 – Santa Ana College
The panel explored popular college topics and touched on some of the biggest concerns many high school students face while transitioning into college. “It’s okay to not know what you are doing and not know what your major is,” remarked NAC Class of 2012 panelist, Fara Rodriguez. Fara’s comment seemed to bring a sense of tranquility to the current NAC Senior class that has been busy finishing up private college applications on top of their typical high school duties. NAC Class of 2014 alum Alejandra Dominguez added, “Getting used to the rigor of college is a transition and I have had to figure all that out, plus you have other things to deal with.”
As the event unfolded, current NAC students in the audience were encouraged to ask the panelists questions. NAC Scholar Edgar Casarin asked the panel, “What keeps you going?” NAC Class of 2014 alum Abraham Rodriguez responded, “I ask myself, ‘Why am I the one to break this social standard? Why couldn’t people before me do it?’ But at the same time it just shows the satisfaction. I’m the one doing this, I’m the one that is going to make a better future for myself, so that’s what keeps me going.”
After the panel portion of the event, Class of 2016 NAC Scholar, Judith Carrillo, said she really enjoyed the panelists responses, noting, “Students showed not only their successes but also their failures and they were able to share their struggles of being a minority at their school.” Class of 2018 NAC Scholar, Abraham Simon, said the panel really cleared some of the fog surrounding college life. “At first I thought college sounds kind of hard, but as they started sharing how they got through it and all the things that happened to them, it was easier to take in. It’s not as hard as we think it is.”
View more pictures from the event below, or check out our gallery on Facebook HERE.
Watch a video recap of the event HERE.
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Class of 2011 Alumna Pursues Doctorate Degree at Purdue University

Class of 2011 NAC Alumna Eve Martinez has faced many challenges in life and has always found a way to succeed. She traveled 1900 miles to the small city of Galesburg, Illinois, home of Knox College. Eve quickly realized that her high school had not prepared her for the academic rigor Knox expected of its students. Regardless, Eve pulled through by finding inspiration through her mother and younger sister.
Eve was determined to focus on STEM so she centered her attention on Physics and Engineering.  Upon taking a mandatory chemistry class for her intended Physics major, she shifted her focus to the study of matter. Eve is part of the small percentage of Latina students who intend to focus on STEM, that fraction being 38%. That portion drops to 8% when comparing Latinas receiving any science related bachelor among all female college graduates.
It wasn’t until Eve’s junior year of college when Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Dr. Helen Hoyt, invited her to conduct research in synthesizing iron catalysts. It was in the course of this research that Dr. Hoyt introduced Eve to the idea of pursuing her doctorate upon graduating college. Shortly after working with Dr. Hoyt, Eve was accepted into the McNair Scholars Program, a very selective platform designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies. Eve ended up double majoring in Chemistry and Spanish from Knox in the spring of 2015.
Eve then applied to a series of Chemistry graduate programs around the nation, before accepting a full ride to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. She began her graduate studies at Purdue during the summer of 2015 where she will be focusing on Inorganic/Organometallic Chemistry under the supervision of Associate Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, Dr. Suzanne Bart. At Purdue, Eve will be part of the alarming fraction of Latinas obtaining their bachelors among all STEM doctorate degrees, that being only a mere 1%.
When asked what advice she has for current NAC Scholars, Eve Replied, “It is very easy to lose sight of your goals when you get caught up in the chaos of taking classes, working two jobs, participating in internships, etc. Many of us weren’t prepared for college, we didn’t go to the best schools in the nation like our college peers but that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to succeed. Above all, you have to want it and you have to put in the work.”
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NAC Scholars Give Thanks for Bright Futures at 7th Annual Thanksgiving Dinner Celebration

On Monday, November 23, the Nicholas Academic Centers hosted its 7th annual Thanksgiving Dinner celebration at Valley High School in Santa Ana. What originated as a small potluck in 2009 has evolved over the years into a grand and formal affair, complete with gourmet-prepared cuisine. Inside Valley’s transformed gymnasium, black carpet covered the hardwood court, tables were set with fall-inspired linens and fresh-cut flowers, and NAC memories colored several canvases that lined the walls. This year, more than 450 guests, made up mostly of current NAC Scholars and alumni, as well as community leaders, academic administrators and faculty, gathered together to build community and celebrate the growing legacy of NAC Scholars.
Upon arrival, guests enjoyed a variety of hors ‘d oeuvres, including quesadillas, meatballs, and spring rolls.  Although the appetizers were delicious, the highlight of the cocktail hour rested in the many reunions. NAC Class of 2010 alum and Wabash College graduate, Rudy Duarte, shared his excitement over seeing old friends: “Having events like these allows me to come back and reconnect with alumni that I haven’t seen, sometimes in years.” One of the evening’s featured speakers, Vicente Robles, himself a NAC Class of 2012 alum and current Pomona College student, also found comfort in celebrating with fellow alumni. Vicente noted, “This Thanksgiving dinner is a great way to come together as a community, give thanks, and share our experiences with other students. It’s a great bonding opportunity for everyone.”
After welcoming guests, NAC Co-Founder, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III, thanked NAC Scholars for working hard and proving that the Centers work. Citing impressive statistics of NAC Scholar successes in contrast to national averages, Dr. Nicholas remarked, “Not only are you guys clearly able to get in to some of the best universities, but our statistics show that you actually do better than the average student, or even gifted students that go to these universities.” Fellow NAC Co-Founder, Judge Jack K. Mandel, echoed Dr. Nicholas’ sentiments: “We found this wondrous trove of talent. With the proper focusing and honing and support, the practical tutoring and counseling, we make a difference.”
Noting how the impact made in NAC Scholars’ lives extends beyond the present, Dr. Rick Miller, Superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District, commented, “This is my 6th district and 27th or 28th year as Superintendent, and I have never seen anything like the NAC, fundamentally making huge differences for students and therefore for their families, both their current family and their family to come. It’s phenomenal.”
Mark Contreras, a Class of 2017 NAC Scholar, helped Dr. Nicholas carve the ceremonial turkey before inviting guests to enjoy a traditional-style Thanksgiving meal. Guests were also encouraged to take pictures at an open-air photo booth nestled in the corner of the room. Dressed in goofy hats, fake mustaches, and oversized heart-shaped glasses, NAC Scholars new and old squeezed alongside one another and posed for keepsake photos.
Following dinner, Class of 2016 NAC Scholars, Moses Alcantara and Monica Naranjo, took the stage. Moses, who mentioned that he never thought he’d find himself speaking on stage in front of so many people, discussed how NAC students who have come before inspire his perseverance and challenge him to try new things: “[At the NAC] I am surrounded by newspaper clippings of the NAC’s origins and the successes of its students. Reading clippings of people like Uyen Nguyen, one of the Judge’s Kids, makes me believe that I, too, will become an achiever.” Like Moses, Monica said she never imagined where this year would take her; however, moving forward, Monica has definite plans: “[Santa Ana] is my childhood and present; therefore, I want to be part of the team that fixes up the parks and neighborhoods,” adding, “I plan to use my knowledge of environmental sciences and come back to Santa Ana, to the city who raised me, and give back.”
The evening’s final speaker, Vicente Robles, explained that he proudly spent his entire academic career in Santa Ana before attending Pomona College. Vicente’s pre-college journey included stops at Carl Harvey Elementary, MacArthur Fundamental Intermediate, and Godinez Fundamental High School. Looking ahead, Vicente shared his vision of the future: “Now, I am a few months away from the end of the school year and I will be graduating. I will be finishing my bachelor’s degree in physics. After graduation, I plan on attending graduate school for a doctorate in engineering and eventually work as a scientist in the field of propulsion, developing the next spaceship to Mars.”
As the evening wound down, several guests passed again through the photobooth and captured moments on film to supplement the memories they made earlier in the evening, eating dinner with friends, and listening to the trials and triumphs of their peers. Looking back to the small Thanksgiving potluck in 2009, it is clear that the organization, like its annual Thanksgiving event, has grown. So long as NAC Scholars continue to establish themselves as an undeniable academic force, the celebration will go on, and likely on a larger stage.
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Dr. Price Discusses the Freshman Housing Challenge

The Chapman Visiting Scholars Series on Saturday, October 17, was led by Chapman University Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Dr. Jerry Price. The presentation, labeled “The Freshman Housing Challenge,” aimed to introduce NAC scholars to the underlying issue of pairing students based on personality and interests on the Chapman University campus as well as worldwide.
To open the lecture, Dr. Price had the students answer a survey with a series of questions about their living habits and interests in and outside the school setting. After the students finished the survey, he asked the students to get up from their chairs and move to the front of the room to share their answers through an answer-based activity that had students with similar responses on the left, middle, or right side of the room.
In one of the questions, Dr. Price asked, “If you like country [music] move to the right side of the room; if you don’t, move to the left.” The Southern California lifestyle soon came to light when all participants decided to move to the left side of the room, showing they weren’t interested in the country music genre. He then asked if they liked “Hip-Hop” and the playing board suddenly became even, with some students in the middle of the room, showing neutrality over that particular genre.
When the activity ended, he asked the students to analyze the purpose of the exercise, and one student answered, “to better match the candidates and avoid conflict between the new roommates”.

For the second half of the presentation, Dr. Price formed groups of 4-5 students and had them pair fictional characters together based on their interests. The students had 15-20 minutes to pair the characters based on their profile and then had to share their answers with the rest of the room. One of the answers shared was “Stuart is going to be busy playing video games and drawing, and Jerry (fictional character) is going to be busy doing sports minding his own business, which is why they would be good roommates.”

Dr. Price closed the lecture by saying, “Having conflicts with someone else and learning how to make the situation win-win for everybody is a skill that is invaluable for the rest of your life.”
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Chapman University Chancellor, Dr. Daniele Struppa, Kicks Off Sixth Year of Visiting Scholars Series

On Saturday, September 26, the Chapman Visiting Scholars Series returned for the sixth consecutive year with Chapman University Chancellor Dr. Daniele Struppa’s presentation, “A Conversation between a Teacher and a Student.” Alongside Dr. Struppa, Chapman class of 2015 alum, Timothy Lee, engaged Nicholas Academic Centers’ students with two topics: ethical dilemmas and cancer.

To open the lecture, Lee posed hypothetical situations that challenged students to make life or death decisions. In the first example, Lee asked students whether they would pull a switch to change a train’s direction and in effect save five people’s lives instead of saving one person if no action was taken. 87% of the students said they would pull the switch and let one person die instead of five. In another example, students were asked if they would physically push someone into harm’s way if it would mean saving more people. This time, responses were split fifty-fifty.

Noting the shift in responses from students as to which course of action they might take to change a situation, Dr. Struppa commented, “To me, what it tells us about us, about our human nature, is that our philosophical position will be modified by the context.” One student, Alejandra Hernandez, a Class of 2020 NAC Scholar, struggled with her decision: “I didn’t want to push the guy off [the bridge] because I didn’t want to feel guilty, but I didn’t want to let the people die either.”

Lee attributed this shift to the concept of omission versus commission. With omission, interaction is minimal, and therefore one will likely feel less guilty about his or her role in changing a situation’s outcome. With commission, the person facing the ethical dilemma becomes more physically involved, and therefore takes on more of the burden of the outcome. Nomar Santana, a Class of 2018 NAC Scholar from NOVA Academy, found the dilemmas very challenging: “You really had to ask yourself, would you be willing to do this to save someone’s life? It’s these types of ethical, moral, deep questions you don’t really ask yourself normally.”

In addition to omission and commission, Lee and Dr. Struppa also discussed utilitarianism and deontology. According to Lee, utilitarianism concerns “the greatest good for the greatest number.” In contrast to utilitarianism, deontology represents “an approach to Ethics that focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves,” according to philosophybasics.com. To give an example, Lee suggested that one could not cause harm to others.

For the second half of the presentation, Dr. Struppa and Lee discussed cancer prevention and quizzed students on their knowledge of the causes of and potential cures for cancer. While the presenters noted that understanding cancer “will require understanding of biology, chemistry, physics, medicine, mathematics, statistics, sociology, public policy, and more,” they also shared basic statistics and suggested preventative measures, such as diet and exercise, and especially regular testing for early detection. Luz Rodriguez, a class of 2018 NAC Scholar from Santa Ana High School, remarked, “One thing I found interesting is how you can cure some cancers with early prevention, for example, doing a mammogram or some other tests that can prevent and potentially save you from a lot of terrible situations you don’t really want to be in.”

To close, Dr. Struppa commended the students for making time to pursue their studies on a Saturday morning, and he added, “College has this tremendous transformational power. When you think about college, I want you to think about jobs, financial stability, and personal intellectual growth.”

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NAC Scholars Opt for Summer School

Every summer, when the last school bells ring and vacations begin, NAC Scholars do what they do all year round: They continue to dedicate their days to learning; they actively pursue their education. For the last seven years, NAC doors have remained open during the summer months, and NAC scholars have continually enrolled in and attended a diverse selection of academic and extracurricular classes and activities.
Classes
Led by mentors and academic tutors, NAC summer classes cover topics ranging from Sociology & Politics to Chemistry, Geometry, and even Cooking and Photography. NAC staff design each course to meet national education standards while they also engage students with creative formatting and practical applications.
Students in Emanuel Raya’s Sociology & Politics course have been discussing the trial of Socrates by Plato, as well as Nietzsche’s The Will to Power and Michel Foucault’s views on power and knowledge. Students in the course include recent high school graduates who are interested in examining laws, power, politics, culture, and more. Emanuel aims to share the course material as objectively as possible, noting, “I try my best to provide them with multiple perspectives on topics as well as various counter-arguments.” During one discussion, NAC Scholar Rei Hurtado asked, “How do we get into a position of power?” Emanuel answered, “That’s for you to decide, but you’re on your way.” Other students also answered, citing social and communication skills, as well as money, education, and psychological stability as a means to power. Emanuel smiled, and ultimately concurred.
In a NAC first, Michelle Sendejas taught students to make slime in Chemistry class. While producing the gooey concoction, students studied various chemical reactions and found a new use for Borax. In Geometry, Elizabeth “Liz” Olivares, a NAC Mentor and Academic Tutor, found a creative way to get students to think critically using math and images. Liz asked students to choose a picture from online and show the pictures to the other students. After observing the pictures, Liz asked how the photos applied to Geometry. Students started recognizing shapes, lines, and angles within the pictures, something they didn’t realize earlier. On why she created this exercise, Liz noted, “I hope that the tools or skills they gained from this lesson, they will apply to life and additional courses. When they have a problem, I hope they will be able to look at the situation from a different perspective and observe that the situation has other possibilities.
112 of our rising Seniors also enrolled in SAT Preparation classes taught by College Spring.
Workshops and Community Service
The Higher Education Services Department holds daily workshops to assist NAC Scholars, as well as recent graduates, with college preparation and transition, interviews, financial aid, and more. Fernando Martinez, Assistant Director of Higher Education Services, and Ivana Villarreal, Higher Education Services Coordinator, have found that the Survival Kit Workshops designed for rising seniors stirs a “palpable excitement” as students move one step closer to beginning their higher education journeys. Fernando cites the “Talking to People at Parties: CTCL Version” workshop as one of the most transformative. According to Fernando, “When students realize that talking to college reps doesn’t have to be so stressful, they start breaking out of their shell and create these amazing ways to talk to the reps.” Ivana notes that these workshops do invite some level of stress initially, but they really serve to empower students and better prepare them for the next step.
The Mentoring and Social Services Department also hosts weekly workshops and community service opportunities. Madeline “Maddy” Gonzalez, the Director of Mentoring and Social Services, with help from Lidia Hernandez, Assistant Director of Mentoring and Social Services, join students as they participate in community service activities for organizations like the Surfrider Foundation, Second Harvest Food Bank, and the WELL Program. After working alongside NAC Scholars at a local soup kitchen, Maddy noted, “The youth were able to really see a need just down the street from them; I feel like this was a true definition of giving back.”
Summer Opportunities
It’s no secret that NAC Scholars excel both inside and outside the classroom. Each winter, scholars meet for the annual Summer Opportunities Panel and discuss constructive ways to spend their summers. A panel of students who have previously participated in a number of programs leads the discussion and answers questions about their experiences. This is where it pays off.
NAC Scholar Gabriel Piñon recently attended the Chicano/Latino Youth Leadership Conference at Sacramento State University, from July 18 to July 25. Gabriel was accepted after submitting three essays, a letter of recommendation, a transcript, and a list of extracurricular activities. According to Gabriel, the obstacles were worth his time: “The conference was a really eye-opening experience that exposed me to my culture and the legislative process. Before I arrived, I was really not well connected with the idea that I was a Chicano. However, through a week of morale and support, I left the institution with pride in my cultural background.” Gabriel added, “I used to hate politics, but after experiencing what it is like to be a senator, to know that your voice accounts for a major deciding factor in the final vote and the future of our nation, that is something that CLYLP has offered me, something that I now might consider as a career path.”
NAC Scholar Judith Carrillo also recently returned from weeklong Future Latino Leaders Law Camp in Washington D.C., where she had the opportunity to learn more about the legal profession. According to Judith, “The program taught me that not everything in law is black and white; two people can look at a case and see things completely differently because it is how you apply the law that makes a difference.”
Other NAC Scholars who have participated in summer programs include Rosa Vasquez, who participated in The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship Student Congress, the Chicano/Latino Youth Leadership Conference, as well as the Dartmouth Bound Summer Program; Long Nguyen and Belerofonte Mar participated in the Summer Engineering Camp at Bucknell University, where they lived on campus and attended college lectures, lab demonstrations and experiments, in order to learn more about the world of engineering. NAC Scholar Sebastian Ayala received a scholarship for an all-expenses paid trip to England from the British Studies Summer Program; he had the opportunity to learn about and experience the British culture by visiting various historical monuments.
Overall, it’s been a busy summer at the NAC (and abroad). As the new school year approaches, our scholars will already be in study mode and ready to take on new academic challenges.
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NAC Celebrats New Graduates’ Success at 2nd Annual Senior Day

On Friday, June 26, Nicholas Academic Centers’ Scholars gathered at Valley High School’s “Club 59” cafeteria just outside of NAC 2, and for the second consecutive year spent the afternoon celebrating success, sharing stories, and eating freshly prepared tacos. During the event, NAC staff took turns speaking to the students who continue to defy statistics, congratulating them for what they’ve accomplished despite the odds, and wishing them well as they prepare to move forward with their educational journeys.
Rosa Diaz, NAC Director, opened her remarks to the graduating class by quoting German writer and statesman, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” Rosa then encouraged students to not only go on to earn a college degree, but also to use the knowledge they gain to give back to their community. Rosa noted, “You have to take action; you have taken action and are moving on to college while many of your classmates are not,” before adding, “If you’ve ever thought you’re not special, surprise! You are!”
As a graduate of Santa Ana High School, Sandra Flores, a Higher Education Services Coordinator for NAC 2, saw herself in many of the students with whom she has worked. Sandra commented, “Given the obstacles you’ve gone through, you should all be very proud of yourselves.” Ivana Villarreal also touched on the new graduates’ accomplishments, stating, “It still hasn’t hit me that you all are leaving, and I don’t think I want it to. I just have to say that the Class of 2016 has very large shoes to fill.”
Class of 2015 graduate Nairurth Borath, who will attend UCLA in the fall, appreciated the Senior Day gathering: “I think the senior event was overall reassuring, knowing that I have a support system, which is the NAC. Also, the food was great.” Fellow graduate and future UC Irvine student, Celia Ortega, added, “I enjoyed it because it’s possibly the last time the seniors get to have a bonding day. Some of the seniors are going far and out of state and it’s a good way to get together one last time.” Finally, Yasmin Cruz, who will attend Cal Poly Pomona, noted, “It was really fun, especially being able to reunite with friends and the NAC staff. It should be a tradition every year!”
Before inviting students to play two thrilling (or more accurately, funny) games of Musical Chairs, Rosa Diaz and Fernando Martinez unveiled a new NAC t-shirt, which reads, “I’m a NAC Scholar – Santa Ana, CA.” Rosa challenged the college-bound scholars to “find the most exciting place to take a picture [while wearing the NAC Scholar shirts at college] and send it to us.”
Be sure to visit our website and follow our Facebook & Twitterprofiles to see those pictures as they come in.
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NAC Among Honorees at OC Human Relations Awards 44 Gala

At the City National Grove of Anaheim on May 7, 2015, the OC Human Relations’ Awards 44 celebration “honored the outstanding human relations efforts of seldom-recognized individuals, model community policing programs and exemplary school programs that create safe and inclusive environments for Orange County’s students and residents” (OCHumanRelations.org). The Nicholas Academic Centers (NAC), honored “for supporting higher education for low-income students through mentoring and scholarships,” is proud to have been included alongside other local unsung heroes like Gloria Banks, the Bravo Family, De Colores Organization, Father Michael Mai Khai Hoan, and Farrah N. Khan, as well as Officer Jenny Lindsey of the Irvine Police Department and Savanna High School.
The ceremony, which celebrates “Justice, diversity, and the human spirit,” is an annual gala hosted by OC Human Relations, a non-profit organization founded in 1971 to “Build mutual understanding among residents and to eliminate prejudice, intolerance and discrimination.” To start the evening, the Awards 44 Ceremony opening speaker and OC Human Relations CEO, Rusty Kennedy, reflected on the organization’s mission and noted, “We bring people together at OC Human Relations, and together with all of you we can make the world a better place.” The idea of making the world a better place lies at the root of the Nicholas Academic Centers.
More than twenty years ago, now-retired Superior Court Judge and NAC Co-Founder, Jack K. Mandel, dedicated his time and resources to help Santa Ana students in need. Driven by his belief in the concept of “tikkun olam,” a Hebrew phrase that literally translates to “world repair,” the Judge mentored and tutored underserved students in a successful bid to help them get into, and graduate from, college. He did so because he believed in the mission, and his students absorbed the philosophy. Rosa Diaz, an original “Judge’s Kid” who now serves as the NAC Director, comments, “It’s an education issue, and it’s an equity issue. It’s about creating an equal opportunity for our students to have access to the same type of higher education as any other student. We want to be able to say, ‘No matter where you come from, you have an equal opportunity to access a college education.’”
In 2008, Broadcom Co-Founder Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III partnered with Judge Mandel and launched the Nicholas Academic Centers, which are a part of a philanthropic network anchored by the Henry T. Nicholas, III Foundation. With Judge Mandel’s guidance and Dr. Nicholas’s financial support, the NAC has reached impressive milestones. For example, 95% of all our graduates in over seven years have enrolled in college directly after high school, compared to the national average 66%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Following a video of NAC highlights, Dr. Nicholas took to the stage at the Awards 44 gala to accept the unsung heroes award for the Nicholas Academic Centers. In addition to thanking the OC Human Relations Commission for the award, and the entire NAC staff, Dr. Nicholas specifically thanked the “602 graduates of the Nicholas Academic Centers.” Dr. Nicholas noted, “95% of them are Hispanic, many undocumented, who managed – going through our program – to level the playing field and get admitted to Harvard, Georgetown, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Purdue, and Notre Dame.”
To close the ceremony, after a night of celebrating “justice, diversity and the human spirit,” James Lehmann of Partners Advantage quoted famed author and poet, T.S. Eliot: “What life have you if you have not life together, for there is no life that is not lived in community.” He also added, “Our vision and goal for year 45 is to continue to build a community that is safe, that is secure, and that is inclusive for all people to live in, to work in, to go to school in, and to do business in by embracing the beautiful mosaic of people that we are.”
Watch a PSA video put together by OC Human Relations HERE.
(Photo credit for group photo: OC Human Relations)
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