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Annual gala honors former foster youth


Alumna Ruth Lira

  • May 27, 2009

Since its inception in 2006, Cal State East Bay’s Renaissance Scholars Program has been a source of support for former foster youth, helping these underrepresented students on the path to a college degree.

To honor the participants’ personal and academic achievements, each year the university hosts the Renaissance Scholars Recognition Gala. At the formal dinner event, held May 28 on the Hayward campus, the students currently in the program, as well as six graduating seniors, will be recognized and congratulated by friends, supporters and CSUEB administrators, including President Mo Qayoumi, Provost Michael Mahoney, and the deans of the four colleges.

Students from the program will provide entertainment for the evening, said program coordinator Kevin Bristow, performing songs and poetry. Nancy Skinner of the California State Assembly will deliver a keynote address. Assembly majority leader Alberto Terrico will also be in attendance.

Alumna Ruth Lira ’08, a former Renaissance Scholar who also served as a member of the program’s advisory board, will also speak. “I want to be inspirational,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, and life can be hard in college, but it really does get better and better,” she said.

Lira, a San Jose native, earned her bachelor’s degree in biology. She currently works at Stanford Hospital as a medical research coordinator. “I’m pretty sure I found my calling,” she said. “It’s not just a job… This helped me figure out what I want to do with my life.”

To pursue that newfound passion, Lira will be applying to master’s programs to become a physician assistant; she’s attending classes at Cal State East Bay and Foothill Community College to meet additional prerequisites. It’s been a change from her undergraduate experience, she said, which was more difficult and overwhelming. “I’m able to mentally and physically prepare for everything in school now.”

But, Lira added, the guidance she received from the Renaissance Scholars Program was a big help during those undergrad years. She cited academic support, friendship, and available year-round housing as some of the advantages for students in the program.

Like other Renaissance Scholar graduates, Lira said she wants to be a source of support for other former foster youth. In addition to staying in touch with friends at Cal State East Bay, she is preparing to become a mentor for foster youth in Santa Clara County.

This year, graduating seniors in the Renaissance Scholars Program will also be recognized with certificates from the California State Congress, said Tempest Jones, the program’s community outreach liaison, and one of the graduating seniors. “It’s a real accomplishment, and it wasn’t easy, and I’m glad I was able to finish” she said, adding that her cousin and best friend will be attending the gala to recognize her accomplishment.

Jones majored in criminal justice administration with a minor in human development. She will remain in her outreach position after graduation, following a short break to celebrate her graduation and prepare for the busy summer ahead.

The evening also gives supporters an opportunity to pledge their financial support. “We are a grant and donation funded program,” Bristow said. “But the most important thing about the night is the students.”

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