Talent Search grant extension to help more East San Jose teens achieve college dreams

This grant cycle, the Educational Partnership Center hopes to encourage more students to focus on STEM studies because of the abundant career opportunities in the field in their region.

Hundreds of low-income teens in East San Jose will continue to receive extra help to achieve their college dreams after the federal government again funded a grant to UC Santa Cruz. 

The UC Santa Cruz Educational Partnership Center will receive $1.3 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Education’s Talent Search program to serve 500 students annually in grades 7-12. Talent Search helps disadvantaged students who have the potential to succeed in postsecondary education. UC Santa Cruz has received funding from the program since 2016.

Yathziri Orozco, a junior at Yerba Buena High School, said the program has helped her better understand the course admission requirements for entry to the UC system. 

“The staff from the program are really friendly and approachable,” she said, praising Jacob Urquia, the Talent Search academic coordinator for the UC Santa Cruz Educational Partnership Center. “He’s very nice, he’s constantly there for us and guiding us through everything.” 

In addition to serving students at Yerba Buena High School, Talent Search will continue serving students from James Lick High School both in the East Side Union High School District, Joseph George Middle School in the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District and Bridges Academy in the Franklin-McKinley School District. More than half the students are Hispanic/Latinx and about a quarter are English language learners, with their first language being Spanish or Vietnamese. 

Talent Search offers a variety of services, including college, career and financial aid advising,  academic tutoring, and more, and is working in cooperation with other organizations in the area, including the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. 

The Silicon Valley Education Foundation will be offering Talent Search students support in science, technology, engineering and math programs through Elevate (Math), a summer program that helps kids get prepared for the coming year’s Common Core math classes, and the Computer Science Institute, which teaches computational thinking and problem solving skills. 

“We hope this grant will be able to provide additional STEM exposure, especially in mathematics and computer science enrichment to low-income students, who have the least access to support,” said Vy Nguyễn, associate director at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. 

Sonia Ramos, project director at the Educational Partnership Center, said the program is happy to be returning to in-person services this year after offering only remote services since the onset of the pandemic. The key to the program is building relationships and building trust with students, she said. 

The results of the program were encouraging even in 2019-20, the school year that the pandemic hit. Ramos said 68 percent of the class of 2020 who participated in the program graduated in the standard number of years and enrolled in an institution of higher education by the next fall term. 

This grant cycle, the Educational Partnership Center hopes to encourage more students to focus on STEM studies because of the abundant career opportunities in the field in their region.

“We want to help students see a path to a future in a STEM career that they may not have otherwise imagined for themselves in Silicon Valley,” Ramos said.

The Educational Partnership Center, a program of the UC Santa Cruz Division of Undergraduate Education, coordinates new and longstanding student academic preparation efforts of UC Santa Cruz with the goal of increasing access and opportunity to postsecondary education for underrepresented students across the Monterey Bay and Silicon Valley/San Jose regions. Through nine vital programs and with support from federal and state funding, EPC provides an array of direct services which support students on the college-going pathway through tutoring, mentoring, academic planning and counseling, leadership training, test preparation, college awareness and enrichment, and teacher professional development.