Be your own champion: ‘Grad Lab’ program teaches teens in the college transition

Moriah Riggs from Anaheim is a first-generation college student who went through Girls Inc.'s College Bound program.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Moriah Riggs didn’t know much about Girls Inc. of Orange County until about a year ago.

She was in history class, and her counselor at Savanna High School gave her a slip notifying her to report to the school career center.

“So I went, and they had one of the coordinators giving a presentation about Girls Inc., their whole spiel, their mission and how you can get involved,” Riggs said. “It piqued my interest. As a first-generation student, I wanted to just get all of the tools and resources I can. That’s really the only knowledge I can rely on.”


That day was literally a life-changing one for Riggs, who completed the Girls Inc. College Bound: Grad Lab program and graduated from Savanna. She leaves for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Friday, where she is majoring in environmental science and plans to minor in business.

The Anaheim native also heads off to college with two scholarships that she applied to through the College Bound program, the Chauvel Scholarship and Kinoshita Schlorship, worth a combined $23,000.

Moriah Riggs from Anaheim received two college scholarships totaling $23,000 to help her go to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

These will give her a boost in her goal to be the first college graduate from her family. She already has a retail job that she plans to return to and pick up shifts when she’s home during school breaks.

“I was so excited that I’m supporting myself through college,” said Riggs, who cried tears of joy at the Girls Inc. Grad Lab College Shower and scholarship reception at Orange Coast College in April. “I had applied to so many scholarships, and that was the first ‘yes’ I’ve heard. Anything and everything was helpful.”

Girls Inc. of Orange County, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit, is readying its free College Bound: Grad Lab program for another year. Interested Orange County high school senior girls can see the application online at, and the deadline has been extended to Wednesday night, Sept. 13.

About 170 high school senior girls from around the county participated in the College Bound: Grad Lab program last year, said Laura Chavez of Girls Inc. of Orange County, one of the program coordinators.

Chavez herself is a Girls Inc. of Orange County alumna, and she also works with the Project Accelerate college program, in which Riggs is now also a participant.

“I always tell all of our students, it’s like I have 100-plus hearts running outside my body,” Chavez said. “We say that because when we work with all of our girls and students, we truly treat them like family.”

The College Bound: Grad Lab program consists of two Zoom meetings a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting Sept. 19 through December. It is designed to cultivate a college-going mindset for every girl, regardless of circumstance, and also features breakout sessions.

The program features monthly senior and cohort advising from January to April and a mentorship program from April to June.

“We were partnered up with people were either in college or had been to college, helping us with college or scholarship applications,” Riggs said. “They pulled up the personal insight questions you need for UCs, and they talked about, ‘What are you looking for?’ They talked about hero’s journey, the best way to tell your story, and our writing. We’d just dissect anything and pick their brains … They pointed us in the right direction.”

Moriah Riggs, a graduate of Savanna High School,
Moriah Riggs, a graduate of Savanna High School, is excited to head off to college.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

There are also other fun in-person activities, like getting ready for senior prom. Girls Inc. provides resources like prom outfits or a ride to prom if that’s needed.

Malia LaVoie, a Costa Mesa native who graduated from Newport Harbor High School earlier this year, was another participant in the College Bound: Grad Lab program.

This week, LaVoie started her classes at New York University, where she’s majoring in computer science. In her back pocket she has a $2,000 Women Investing in Security and Education (WISE) scholarship that she received at the College Shower.

“I kind of jumped into the college application process cold water,” LaVoie said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was just doing it completely on my own, and I was completely lost, but this program definitely helped me find my bearings and get me through the process.”

In a few days Riggs will head to the Central Coast and participate in Cal Poly’s Week of Welcome, designed to ease freshmen into the college experience. But through the College Bound: Grad Lab, she already feels like she has a step up.

“We’re able to provide them with that tool belt, but it’s what they do with that tool belt that allows them to get to that next step,” Chavez said. “When we were able to announce Moriah’s scholarships before the entire team, it was really invigorating. We were excited to be able to show Moriah that every door that she thought was closed for her, there’s a million more that are waiting for her.

“Truly, Moriah is her biggest champion, and that’s what we hope that girls can be for themselves.”