Estrella Rivera, star of Boys & Girls Club College Bound program, wins scholarship

Estrella Rivera received a $10,000 scholarship from the Taco Bell Foundation.
Estrella Rivera, a participant in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast College Bound program, is the recipient of a $10,000 scholarship from the Taco Bell Foundation.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Estrella Rivera remembers first learning of the Live Mas Scholarship offered by the Taco Bell Foundation as a ninth-grader at Segerstrom High School.

“When I was a freshman, I wanted to apply but I really didn’t know how I should go about it,” said the first-generation high school senior from Santa Ana. “You needed to create a video talking about your passion, and at the time I knew my passion was engineering, but I didn’t how to create the video. ”

Fortunately, Rivera also became involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast in Santa Ana, which has had a long-standing relationship with the Taco Bell Foundation. The club offers a College Bound program that helps students navigate the transition from high school to college and even helps parents navigate financial aid.


This month, Rivera received a $10,000 scholarship from the Taco Bell Foundation as a Live Mas Scholar. The Boys & Girls Club threw a Taco Bell block party with Santa Ana kids and parents to celebrate.

“That was when it actually hit, because we were taking pictures in the grass and then all of sudden they said, ‘Oh, we have your check here,’” said Rivera.

Rivera credits the club’s College Bound support system for her successful scholarship bid.

The year-round program provides academic support and sponsors numerous college pathway activities. Rivera is one of 150 students graduating from high school this year who participated in the program, which partners with Santa Ana, Orange and Newport-Mesa Unified school districts. She began attending webinars and meeting with her academic advisor, Gabby Esparza, in October 2020.

“Our College Bound program prepares our students for post-secondary pathways after high school,” said Esparza. “Whether it be college, a four-year or two-year, trade school or even the military or work force.”

Esparza helped Rivera get familiar with the college application process and earn volunteer hours.

“I did volunteering during COVID, so I would help out making cards for the elderly,” said Rivera. “I would also come in during the summer every Wednesday and sort canned food in bags to distribute them.”

Rivera said she found Esparza to be a wealth of resources and knowledge.

“Miss Gabby, she is amazing,” Rivera said of Esparza’s guidance. “Whenever I had a question or didn’t know where to start, I would go to her and she would answer any questions that I had.”

Advisors also meet with the students once a month to get to know their interests and what kind of career paths they might be considering.

Although Rivera said her family encouraged her to pursue a career in medicine, she found herself more interested in engineering.

“In middle school, I went into a three-year engineering program and that is where I fell in love with STEM and being hands-on and creative,” Rivera said.

Estrella Rivera, a participant in the Boys & Girls Clubs College Bound program.
Estrella Rivera, a participant in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast College Bound program, received a $10,000 scholarship from the Taco Bell Foundation.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

She participated in STEM summer camps and clubs and documented most of it through pictures and video on her phone.

So when the applications opened for the scholarship this year, Rivera was ready.

“I saw Miss Gabby posted the scholarship again and I thought, ‘this time I better make sure that I apply,’” said Rivera. “And ask questions, because I know she is going support me.”

Rivera had plenty of content and made a voiceover that explained her STEM journey.

“She created the video by herself and I was so proud of her,” said Esparza.

Rivera said that up until the deadline, she still had some doubts.

“When I wanted to turn it in, I wasn’t sure if it was good enough,” Rivera said.

Esparza said she remembers Rivera was nervous, but when they went over her final video, Esparza didn’t need to offer more than some minimal feedback.

“I felt like she was on track,” Esparza said. “I thinks she just needed reassurance and she needed someone to tell her, ‘You are good to submit.’”

Of all the ways College Bound offers support, Esparza said getting encouragement from a mentor can be most instrumental to students success.

“As college bound advisors, we mentor our students… I think it is very important for us to be our student’s support system,” said Esparza. “I think every child should have a mentor in their life for them to be able to succeed.”

Rivera will be pursuing a degree in civil engineering at Cal State University Fullerton and hopes to continue to work with the Santa Ana community to mentor young girls the way she has been.

“My goal is to shine the light on engineering to young females,” said Rivera. “I know not all the schools in Santa Ana offer engineering clubs, I feel like that is still going to be my goal. I want to partner with organizations that are going uplift woman in STEM.”

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