ASC Service Award Winner: Ty Hopp

As a transfer student, I knew I did not have much time to fully utilize the resources of UCLA and ASC. That realization became even more significant when I decided to spend my entire senior year studying abroad in South Korea, leaving me with just a year to participate in the ASC community. After volunteering as a Project Leader in VLP last year, I told myself that despite being abroad, I would continue to find ways to volunteer; and despite South Korea's lack of volunteer opportunities for foreigners, I was one of the few chosen to serve at PSCORE, a Seoul-based non-profit organization serving North Korean refugees in South Korea. Teaching English and sharing stories with the refugees, although sometimes painful, helped us overcome our entrenched worldviews and brought mutual understanding and compassion between people of disparate backgrounds.

However, I found myself wanting to do more--and to use my experience abroad as a launchpad for bigger endeavors. I applied to the United States Department of State's Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) program and was chosen by the United States Embassy Jakarta to design, organize and create a program (later called Teach for Borneo) to bring American volunteers to Balikpapan, a rapidly developing city in Borneo. Creating the program from scratch was not easy, but I made use of the skills I learned participating in VLP to make it happen. Conceptualizing the program was especially difficult given that neither my partner or I had ever been to Borneo. In response, I asked the Embassy to coordinate a trip to Balikpapan during my two-month winter break backpacking trip. I backpacked through China, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and finally to the US Embassy in Jakarta and Balikpapan. The joke was that my "virtual" internship was really no longer virtual.

After touring the Embassy and meeting the staff, I set out with two U.S. Foreign Service Officers to spend 4 days in Balikpapan. I visited the Pesantren, the religious school where our American candidates will live and teach this summer. I met the students, took pictures and held interviews with young student leaders that shared their dreams and aspirations. After returning to Korea this semester, I used the content I collected to create the Teach for Borneo website and Facebook page. Now, we are preparing to launch a forthcoming crowdfunding campaign to finance Teach for Borneo's inaugural participants. Although I will not be teaching, my service as founder and organizer of Teach for Borneo has rewarded me with transformative experiences and a strengthened belief in the power of international organization. Through Teach for Borneo I proved to myself that service truly has no borders, and that is something I will carry with me throughout my journey as an aspiring Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. State Department.

Please visit Teach for Borneo's website and Facebook page below!
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Honorable Mention: Bernadette Pinetta

As a wave of silence fell over my audience I realized I not only had the eyes and ears of America’s future, but also their minds and hearts. Half an hour earlier I was nervous that I would not be able to captivate and engage the crowd, but now the thought of saying the wrong thing and ending up discouraging rather than motivating these young students caused my turmoil. Working as a Bruin Advisor for UCLA’s Early Academic Outreach Program keeps me exposed to issues we face in education, but it has also given me the ability to go back to my own high school and be the college resource to students who have none. Since HHS does not have many outreach programs, I volunteer my time to go present. On May 1st I presented to juniors and ninth graders.

The junior classes were a breeze. Since they were in AVID, many students had already been exposed to college information and just needed to know about competitiveness. They were engaged, inquisitive, and very energetic. My presentation had left such an impression on their teacher she asked me to present to other freshman classes since they were struggling and hopefully I would influence them to be more serious about their schoolwork. I modified my presentation for the freshman and got ready for the next class. Unfortunately, the 4th period class was next and it happened to be the one I dreaded the most. I had heard from tutors and other teachers that this was one of the lowest performing AVID classes that were very difficult to control in terms of behavior and there was a substitute today.

When I introduced myself to the class I knew it was going to be difficult, they were chattering away, headphones on looking at videos. I had them put all technology away before I began my presentation and began with the question, “Why College”. One by one they threw out answers, “money”, “better life”, “career”, “experiences” and each time I nodded, happy that they knew the importance of college. I transitioned to tell them to take advantage of the opportunity they had not only by being in AVID, but being at school. I felt a knot grow in my throat as I spoke of my mother’s struggles within higher education. I empathized with them knowing the lack of support they received. But I told them they could do it, that this entire struggle would pay off, and that they needed to do it for themselves. The class became silent and listened to my words and we continued the presentation going over how to move forward if this year did not go so well and what to do to be competitive.

As the class left to lunch, a few students stayed behind to ask me about how they could improve. The courage and initiative to seek help made me realize how one person taking time out of their day could motivate and inspire another.

Honorable Mention: Mohamad A. Kahil

Tutoring and mentoring inner city youth in Koreatown has drastically changed the goals I strive for. I was initially introduced to my first student, a potential saturated, effervescent 8th grader at Berendo Middle School through a phenomenal program here at UCLA: Los Angeles Student Educational Outreach (LASEO). Her name was Catalina; a fitting name for her pure heart. I quickly discovered that the time we would spend together was not going to be defined by her learning from me, but I from her. Throughout my years of working students of all backgrounds, from autistic young elementary school children to SAT bound high school students older than myself, I found Catalina to be the most profound; her bright qualities contrasted to the graffiti ridden walls of Berendo Middle.

Growing up a student of the budget-cut plagued Pomona Unified School District, I believed I was familiar with the challenges faced by Catalina and her peers. She taught me about her background, the issues her and her peers face daily and the inexcusable actions taken against her community, and it was then I realized the full extent of the injustices her community faced. Although surrounded by high price businesses and located in one of the most economically active cities in the USA, her school was facing far reaching and drastic cuts, further straining her community in the long term. All 6th grade teachers were being fired, which would result in all the 6th graders being placed in combination classes with 7th and 8th graders, with no new faculty hires. The new class sizes would place more stress on the already overburdened teachers, provide less attention to the already high needs students, and decrease the chances of these young, bright minds reaching their full potential. The young students at Berendo Middle obviously had difficult times ahead, and I hoped they had welcoming homes to return to. Catalina revealed otherwise. Her and her friends’ parents worked multiple jobs, arriving home late, and sometimes even leaving the house before the children wake for school. In effect, this poor community was being robbed of its only asset: the human capital growth of the youth. Families are being strained and communities are falling apart.

I’ve since vowed to dedicate many of my efforts to youth in need, wherever they may be. If we fail to address the needs of our youth, then we truly have no future, and although this sounds unoriginal and cliché, it is an undeniable truth. Everybody deserves a fair chance, regardless of their parents’ income, their ethnicity, or their neighborhood. These injustices in our society must be repaired or we are no better than we were in the past.