Anteaters for a day

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Editor's note: This corrects Henry T. Nicholas' job titles with Broadcom.

NEWPORT BEACH — It's a common assumption in Newport Beach that kids grow up with a connection to the ocean.

However, many children live a 15-minute drive from the water's edge but have rarely, or never, dipped their feet in the Pacific. That's where "Day at the Bay" comes in.

On Friday, 23 Santa Ana students, ages 14 to 19, from the Nicholas Academic centers spent their day at the bay.

UC Irvine hosted the day, which began with a quick Back Bay lesson at the science center, then the teens took kayaks out on the water.

In the afternoon, the group headed over to UC Irvine for a tour by Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez.

Funded by Henry T. Nicholas, a Newport Coast resident and co-founder and former chairman, president and chief executive of Broadcom, the Nicholas Academic Centers are focused on providing motivational experiences and academic guidance for at-risk youth in Santa Ana.

UC Irvine partnered with the center for the day, giving youth a glimpse of what life is like if they chose to become an Anteater.

At around noon, the teens started bumping into the docks, peeling themselves out of the kayaks as they attempted to get back on dry land. Laughter echoed in the inlet, and a young woman in long, brown braids asked UCI staff, "Can we go back in the water?"

For Wendy Martinez, a 16-year-old from Century High School, paddling out on the bay was a big deal.

"At first I was a little worried, since I don't know how to swim," Martinez laughed. "But it was really fun. Overall, it was a good experience."

Martinez is no stranger to the UCI campus. She attended Gear Up at the university, which gives high school students a glimpse into university life. She sees their involvement in events, such as "Day at the Bay," as an indication of UCI's commitment to students of every background.

"If you can see the college is in the community," she said, "there are usually more opportunities and help."

The Nicholas Academic Center may have a future Anteater on their hands. Currently a student of Santa Ana College and an attendee of the center since its inception, Fernando Pelaxtla is looking forward to the campus visit since he's considering transferring there for his junior and senior years.

"If I had the chance…yeah, I would definitely go there," the 19-year-old said. "It's on the top of my list."

Although he maintains that he is undecided, Pelaxtla's eyes lit up when he talked about computer science and photography. He also wasn't too upset about the Back Bay experience.

"Doing something awesome like kayaking? What can I say?" he said.

Corina Espinoza, assistant executive director of the Nicholas Academic Centers, believes these events are important for their students, who aren't normally exposed to an abundance of extracurricular or academic activities.

"UCI extended an invitation to come spend a 'Day at the Bay' and being an alum, I wasn't going to say no," Espinoza said with a smile. "This is the perfect opportunity for our students to experience something that most, I would say, have never experienced… such as water, boating, and kayaking."

Gomez, the vice chancellor, was excited to offer a new experience to the students.

"Even though [the bay] is relatively close, it might as well be thousands of miles in social distance, in terms of opportunities of this nature," Gomez said.

This will be the last of many summer field trips for the program. Like many of their outings, the day combines fun activities with academically focused ones, showing the students that learning can come in many forms. It also encourages them to try things that are unfamiliar to them, an important trait since many will be the first in their families to consider college.

"We're trying to keep them motivated so they aspire to go to college and stay focused," Espinoza said.

For Espinoza, the commitment to her students comes to fruition when she hears the news of their accomplishments. For example, this spring five of her students were admitted to UCI. She's planning a day where the freshmen can come speak to the current batch of teens.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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