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HomeAfricaGuardian Scholars Program Reflects on 25 Years, Celebrates Largest Graduating Class to...

Guardian Scholars Program Reflects on 25 Years, Celebrates Largest Graduating Class to Date | CSUF News

Mali Sok sees the path in front of her. She envisions crossing the commencement stage with her four younger siblings cheering her on, and she sees herself moving to New York to practice law. 

It’s a vision that she believes is possible because of Cal State Fullerton’s Guardian Scholars Program

“This program has shown me that my dreams of becoming a lawyer are not as far out of reach as I thought. I can see myself making it into my dream law school and doing so much more than I can comprehend at this moment,” said Sok, a first-generation, first-year Southeast Asian student who is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in English.  

Sok is one of many students who have found a home in CSUF’s Guardian Scholars Program throughout its 25-year history. The program provides support services and financial resources to current and former foster youth to help them achieve their goals.

“The Guardian Scholars Program is a significant stepping stone toward a career for hundreds of former foster youth like myself,” said Sok, who shared her story at the April 18 Guardian Scholars 25th anniversary celebration. 

Mali Sok, CSUF guardian scholar and English student

Since it was established in 1998, the Guardian Scholars Program has graduated more than 250 students, and 27 more are on track to earn their degrees this spring as part of the Class of 2024 — the largest graduating class in the program’s history. 

“We were able to expand our program, so we now can support any Cal State Fullerton student, regardless of the time they’ve spent in foster care. This includes graduate and credential students,” said Jaime Hamilton, the assistant director for the Center for Scholars

In addition to connecting students with financial aid and basic needs support, the program provides former foster youth with academic and professional resources, including mentorship, network connections, advising, and opportunities for leadership and career development. 

When scholar alumnus Brianna Magana returned to CSUF to pursue her master’s degree in higher education, it was through the Center for Scholars that she learned about financial aid opportunities for graduate students. 

“That helped pay for my tuition, so I could minimize my work hours and dedicate my time to the master’s program. Because of that support, I was able to achieve a 4.0 GPA,” said Magana ’18,  ’21 (B.A. sociology, M.S. higher education), who has since returned to her alma mater to help students as the assistant director for Basics Needs Services. 

The university launched Guardian Scholars under the leadership of former President Milton Gordon with significant support from Robert L. Palmer, former vice president for student affairs. 

CSUF’s program laid the foundation for similar foster youth programs across higher education institutions, including all 23 California State University campuses. Funded through donor and community support, the program was created in collaboration with Orangewood Foundation and alumnus Ron Davis ’69 (B.A. business administration).

“In 1998, CSUF sparked a national movement to support former foster youth who had aged out of the system,” said Felipe Martinez, director of the Center for Scholars. 

Future plans for the program include expanding resources for students and onboarding two new staff members. One position will focus on outreach and marketing, helping to recruit students and maintain relationships with community partners, and the second hire will serve as the Guardian Scholars Program coordinator. 

“The groundwork and collaboration from these last 25 years has helped to establish an institutional commitment to our Guardian Scholars and our former foster youth here at Cal State Fullerton for years to come,” said Hamilton.