For Lizzette Zarate, USC’s college prep program was an educational pathway that turned into a professional mission

“Cultivating the sense of belonging right from the first day is important,” said Lizzette Zárate, NAI curriculum and instruction specialist. “It helps them see we celebrate school; we celebrate doing extra, we celebrate this pathway.”

The program creates a path to a place that is foreign to many low-income families, and it provides guidance to future first-generation college students. It provides an external network to answer all the questions to which the family at home simply doesn’t have the answers. The byproduct of the program: a strong support system and a sense of belonging.

At the welcome assembly, “Dr. Z,” as Zárate is known within the NAI program, said, “You belong here, you deserve to be here, this is for you. USC is opening its doors for you because they believe in where you are headed.”

As the program prepares its scholars for life on a college campus, it also preps parents for the day their child embarks on that journey. The Saturday workshops  cover everything from being a parent of a college student to financial aid. The program recently added a health and wellness workshop. According to Zárate, “For our families, they really trust the program. They really trust that we are doing right by their children.”

By Saul Garcia

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