LEAD celebrates 10 years helping first-generation students on their way to law degrees, doctorates, and success at Fortune 500 companies. What comes next is even bigger.
Near the end of April, Pablo Madriz ’07 moved across the country to start a new job with a law firm in Manhattan: mid-sized, focused on civil litigation. It’s a great opportunity in a city he loves. He’s excited. But it’s also a big change. “I was a teacher, worked for a nonprofit, and then in public defense,” Madriz says. “I’m very people oriented.”
What Madriz is politely avoiding saying is that he is used to putting others first. While a student at Santa Clara, he was a LEAD scholar. The urge to serve—passing on the opportunity he got as a first-generation student—is strong. Putting his career first will take some getting used to.
“They want to be able to give back to their communities, to advance social justice,” director and co-founder of LEAD Scholars Program Erin Kimura-Walsh says. “That’s just core to who they are.”
Madriz helped define the program. He was in the inaugural class of LEAD scholars, which celebrated its 10th reunion this year. The program was launched with a simple goal: Select 30 first-generation students and have them come to campus two weeks early for a crash course on college life. The experience led to much more: networking with key professors, making students aware of available resources, building community. Along with knowledge, it offered momentum.
For the next four years, LEAD students saw each other through good grades and bad, first loves and the passing away of parents. Out of swipes on your meal card? Take mine. Lose your apartment? Crash in my dorm.
Yuridia Esquivel ’07, who now works as a buying manager for The Gap, remembers getting rides to the dentist from fellow LEAD scholars. “It was like my family,” Esquivel says. “We always had each other.” At The Gap, Esquivel finds herself mentoring younger employees. “I’m always going to try to do everything (to help), because I know how meaningful it is.”
And the impact of LEAD has been passed down, class by class. For Ana Romero ’11, LEAD helped her get the most out of SCU. As a first-generation student, college was less about fun than helping family. “College is actually about developing as a person,” Romero says. “LEAD expanded that notion.” Today, Romero is getting her Ph.D. in counseling psychology at UC Santa Barbara. She has volunteered as a mentor to first-gen students during her graduate and doctoral programs. Her dream? To have a job like Kimura-Walsh.
Last year, LEAD received a $1.5 million grant from the Koret Foundation. The grant adds year-round counseling, career development seminars, faculty and staff positions, alumni mentors, and nearly doubles the number of scholars. A discretionary fund also gives students some financial flexibility for emergencies.
The new seminars and events also provide more support to students later in college and into the workforce. One class brought in representatives from nonprofits who discussed structure and funding sources. “I think we’ve identified a real need for our students in providing a bridge from college to career,” Kimura-Walsh explains. “As firstgeneration college students, they don’t often have access to family networks or social capital.”
Madriz is thrilled at least three more cohorts will experience LEAD. The program makes a difference,” he says. “It leaves a mark on students.”