Seven years ago, four Lynwood High School friends made one of the most important decisions of their lives.
Attending Scripps College Academy (SCA), a free year-round college-readiness program provided by Scripps College, was a definitive choice that would not only pave the way for the rest of these young women’s academic careers but also shape their personal and professional lives.
“At 15 years old, we didn’t know the impact it was going to have on our lives, we just thought, â€˜sounds fun!'” said Melissa Mesinas, an academy alumni.
Launched ten years ago, SCA focuses on preparing young women in the greater Los Angeles area with skills to be well-prepared college applicants.
The program begins with ninth and tenth graders who go through a rigorous summer residential experience followed by monthly events throughout high school, according to its website.
Mesinas started the program as a sophomore along with her friends Estefany Reyes, Leslie Mendoza and Celida Ramirez, all of which are now recent college graduates of small liberal arts colleges â€“ an accomplishment they felt would not have been realized without the academy.
Becoming friends and getting involved with SCA
Mendoza, Ramirez and Reyes met each other as mathathon members in the sixth grade and the trio later met Mesinas when she became their teacher’s assistant in the eighth grade.
While all four girls got to know each other through classes in middle school, it was their passion to go to college that really brought them together.
Through a teacher at Lynwood High School, the four students found out about the program and were instantly attracted to the services it offered for free.
“I thought about this as â€˜Yay! I can be away from home for two weeks and be with my friends’ and then it was like, â€˜whoa it’s going to help me go to college? This sounds like a good plan, and it’s free!” said Reyes.
While experiencing two weeks of dorm life at Scripps College, an all-women’s college in Claremont, the girls explored issues on race, class and gender and developed critical analysis and writing skills among other things.
“I was blind to many things beforeâ€¦ I had no idea what racial profiling was, what types of stereotypes there were and they were in my life every day,” remembers Ramirez of the lectures Scripps College professors gave to them.
“They gave a set of tools and from there we went on and deconstructedâ€¦ and saw the world in a different light and we were challenged,” Mendoza added.
After the residential experience, the girls continued with SCA via SAT and college workshops and book clubs together throughout high school.
“I never felt alone and I never felt scared because I knew we were doing it as a group, together. I think that was amazing,” said Ramirez.
College and friendships
Through a mentoring process at the academy, the girls were also opened up to a whole different set of college options that looked beyond University of California and California State University schools.
“We always had the potential to strive, to succeed, but we didn’t have information, funds of knowledge to know exactly what all of our options were,” said Mesinas.
With help from the academy, all four girls applied for and got accepted to small private liberal arts colleges.
Mendoza and Mesinas, who graduated as valedictorian and salutatorian respectively, entered Scripps College, Reyes attended Williams College and Ramirez attended Wellesley College â€“ both in Massachusetts.
“Leaving Lynwood High, I didn’t want to be in a classroom of 35. So almost all my classes [at Scripps College] were 15â€¦ it wouldn’t be something I would get at a UC and I wouldn’t be as successful as I am now,” said Mendoza.
During their time at the academy, the girls developed a support system to help each other get through challenges and new experiences. At college it was no different.
Reyes told of time when she was very homesick for her mom’s pupusas and Ramirez was able to visit her and surprise her with a plate of it.
“I had been crying [because] I missed my mom’s pupusasâ€¦ and she brings a pupusa, and I nearly jump on her because it was the first time I had [one] in a month and a half” said Reyes.
All four friends may have completed their bachelor degrees this year but they are in no way done with school.
Mesinas, who graduated with a degree in psychology and Hispanic Studies, will be working at Scripps College for a few months then is off to Peru next March to teach English to college students. She plans to go to graduate school and focus on higher education.
Mendoza, a neuroscience major, will be working with a labor-occupational health program through an internship with UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. She then plans to go to graduate school to become a nurse practitioner.
Ramirez, a Spanish language and literature major, plans to enter a doctorate program for romance languages and literatures focusing on Spanish as well.
Reyes double majored in Spanish language and literatures and biology and is now conducting research on T-cells at City of Hope in Duarte. She hopes to work for a few years to gain experience before going to graduate school.