UCLA Launches Mentor Program for Minority Students

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Teams of minority high school sophomores, UCLA sophomores and UCLA alumni will spend the next three years working together in a new program that aims to bring more and better minority applicants to the university and help them succeed once they enroll.

The TriMentor Program, launched last weekend with a banquet and speeches, is the first in the nation to link graduates, undergraduates and high school students, university officials said.

Julie Mendoza, program coordinator, said participating alumni regard it as an opportunity to "give back" to the university and community by sharing their experiences and expertise.

Latino, black, Asian-Pacific Islander and American Indian participants will be matched in 41 teams based on shared interests, gender, race or ethnicity. All have made a commitment to stick with the program for three years.

"I'll make the time," said Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Enrique Romero. He said he will take his teammates, Josephine Sanchez, 20, and Michelle Cabrera, 15, to see trials and meet lawyers.

Romero said they planned to chat weekly. "I'll be telling them my experiences in law school--everything from taking the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) to taking the bar exam."

When Romero was a UCLA undergraduate in the mid-1960s, he said, there were some foreign Latino students, but Mexican-Americans were a rarity. "There were no real role models," he said.

For Sanchez, a political science and history major who is considering law school, the program means that "I'll help Michelle . . . (on) how to get into college, and once I have a degree, I'll know what to do with it."

Cabrera, of El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, said she is interested in law and psychology as possible careers. She is thrilled, she said, "to meet people who already graduated from college."

"At high schools, you only learn about college from high school counselors," each of whom is responsible for several hundred students, Cabrera said.

The idea for the program arose three years ago among administrators of UCLA's Dr. Ralph J. Bunche Scholarship Program, which gives awards to minority undergraduates. One of their concerns was the high dropout rate of minority students at UCLA.

During the last five years, only 45% of black, Latino, American Indian, Filipino and Pacific Islander undergraduates at UCLA have graduated, compared to 67% of other Asians and Caucasians, said Ken Meyer, director of the UCLA Alumni Assn.'s advisory and scholarship programs.

With a program reaching down to the high school level, Meyer said, "hopefully, the students who are active in the TriMentor program will have better preparation (before) they come to the university and have a better success rate once they're here," Meyer said.

High school participants were recruited by the undergraduate admissions office last fall. They had to have at least a 2.5 grade-point average, "commitment to education" and show some need for the program, such as coming from families where English is not the primary language or where no one has gone to college, Meyer said. The UCLA students were chosen on similar criteria.

Applications were reviewed by UCLA's various minority alumni associations--which also solicited the alumni volunteers--and Meyer's office made the matches.

Some of the American Indian and Asian teams still need high school members, Meyer said.

The program, funded by the Alumni Assn., has spent about $6,000, Meyer said. The tentative budget for the 1990-91 fiscal year, starting July 1, is $13,900, said UCLA spokeswoman Olivia Cervantes.

While UCLA will organize workshops in leadership and career planning, barbecues and other social events, the teams are urged to dine, go to movies and museums and do other things on their own.

"He's just going to be a big brother to me," Abdul Smith of Santa Monica High School said of UCLA student Jeff Mitchell. Smith said he has nearly all A's and plans to go to college, but he added that even though he and others in the program may be good students, "maybe we'll lose hope in studying . . . without that boost."

The mentors, he said, will "light our fires to burn a little brighter."

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