By Jean Cowden Moore
Reprinted with permission from Ventura County Star, July 10, 2010
When he was in high school, Sergio Galvez was recruited for Upward Bound, a program aimed at preparing bright, low-income students for college. Now 29, he is running the program he once attended at California Lutheran University.
Each summer, high school students gather at the Thousand Oaks campus, where they take classes and get tutoring and counseling. A dozen years ago, Galvez was one of them.
“It sounded like something I needed to be part of, a program that helps you get to college,” said Galvez, who lives in Somis. “I was getting good grades, taking some honors classes, but I had no idea where to start, where to go.”
Galvez almost didn’t complete the program. Shortly after starting his senior year at Camarillo High School, he learned his girlfriend was pregnant. Galvez applied to colleges anyway, but when he started getting acceptance notices — including from USC, his dream school — he decided he needed to get a job instead so he could support his family.
Galvez went to the director of Upward Bound at the time, Oscar Cobian, and told him he was going to drop out, so another person could take his place. Cobian would have none of it. If family was his priority, Cobian told Galvez, had he considered going to CLU?
Galvez started at CLU the following fall, now the father of Viviana, who had been born a month before he graduated from high school. At CLU, Galvez gave up another dream — playing college baseball — and concentrated on his classes, majoring in history. He planned to become a teacher and, after graduating, earned his credential at CLU.
He taught for a year, but then a job as assistant director opened up in the Upward Bound program. Galvez got the job. Now, five years later, he’s earned his master’s degree in public policy and administration and is the director of CLU’s two Upward Bound programs, which are offered through the U.S. Department of Education.
The first is a general program for students at Channel Islands, Hueneme, Oxnard, Pacifica and Rio Mesa high schools. In addition to attending the five-week summer session, students come to CLU throughout the school year for classes, tutoring, field trips and help in preparing for college.
The second focuses on math and science. Students in that program come from across the western U.S. and the Pacific islands. They attend a six-week summer session at CLU and receive seminars, tutoring and counseling during the school year.
While he’s been in Upward Bound, Andrew Ozuna, 17, has gone from being unsure about college to being committed to attending a four-year university.
“It helps to motivate me,” said Ozuna, who started the program as a sophomore at Channel Islands High School. “I sometimes used to think I wanted to go to college, but it seemed impossible.”
Ozuna’s younger brother, Aaron, is in the math and science program. Both are now students at El Camino High School at Ventura College.
Giving an expanded view
It’s not just the academic help that benefits students, said their stepmother, Stacey Ozuna, who has encouraged all her children to go to college. Participants also go on field trips, letting them see a play or go white-water rafting – activities they otherwise might not do, she said.
“It exposes them to other ways of living,” she said. “It really opens doors for them, helps them expand their horizons.”
Jessica Ramirez, 17, was reluctant to join Upward Bound because she was uneasy about being away from home for five weeks, but her mother encouraged her.
“She didn’t get to do everything she wanted to,” said Ramirez, a senior at Oxnard High. “She’s telling me, ‘I want you to do everything you want before you get married and have kids.’”
Galvez’s parents also stressed the importance of getting an education. When Galvez was a child, his father always checked his children’s homework before he allowed them to go out and play, although he had only a third-grade education himself.
“He cared enough to make sure it was done,” Galvez said. “He laid down the path for us to care enough to get good grades.”
Paying it forward
Today, Galvez is divorced from Viviana’s mother but is continuing that focus on education with his daughter. That means school is the first priority. So if Viviana, 11, is not with him after school, Galvez calls her to make sure she’s finished her homework. And she has her own desk in his office.
Galvez also still teaches the Upward Bound senior seminar every year, because that allows him to stay connected to students like Ozuna and Ramirez.
“I want to be an Oscar Cobian to somebody someday because I had that,” Galvez said. “I had someone who believed in me.”