UCLA's VIP Scholars program aims to make equal opportunity for university education a reality

UCLA's VIP Scholars program has been in place for 15 years. It's growing in importance now more than ever, and making equal opportunity for university education a reality.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- UCLA started a program called VIP Scholars in 2005 to address the declining number of African American students being accepted to or attending UCLA.

The vice provost's Initiative for pre college scholars partners with 10 schools in LAUSD and Pasadena, mentoring high performing, predominantly black students.

What sets VIPS apart is the social justice approach to education, teaching U.S. history, but also the strength of the African American culture and how students can be an agent of change.

"Students are learning about the impact of race, class, gender and inequality in the U.S., but it's not just to learn about it, but how does this affect my school, how does this affect my community, my peers. Okay, now how can I pursue a career or a path that allows me to something about it," says program director Dr. Jonli Tunstall.

Like most educational programs, VIPS mentors have been meeting with students online, but in the past, met with students every week throughout high school, encouraging them to take a rigorous class schedule, while providing college level tutoring if needed.

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And for a minority student, that critical feedback from a person of the same race is crucial according to Dr. Tunstall.

"Often times our students are in honors or AP classes and they are the only Black students, so to not feel awkward, to not feel left out, to not feel like they're the voice for the entire Black community but they're understood without them even having to say anything in a comfort level that students often times don't feel in public schools," Dr. Tunstall said.

Taylor Haywood will be a junior in high school next year, and is the VIPS program now.

"I've met some lifelong friends through this program which I am very excited to see how we can further strengthen our relationship with each other" said Taylor, who's sister Trinity, will be a senior and expands on her younger sister's thoughts.

"I agree with her and I also feel like, what I learned in this program is that closed mouths don't get fed, and so I feel like we have both approached that in our lives now, with always strive for what you want, work as hard as you are able to and just always strive to do your best" Trinity said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, VIP Scholars stayed on the campus of UCLA for either a three or five week program during the summer. For some, it's the first time they have spent significant time on a university campus.

Tr'Vel Lyons was a VIP Scholar in the program's third year and after graduating Harvard, he's now a mentor at VIPS while getting his doctorate at UCLA. He knows the value of having aspiring college students live on campus during those summer months.

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"Taking a course on the campus and feeling as if I belong here. There is a place for me here, and importantly, there's a family and a foundation that, if I came here as a student, I wouldn't be alone," Lyons said.

Students also attend quarterly Saturday academies with a family member or supportive adult because in many cases, parents have a lot to learn about college as well.

Terri Haywood is the mother of Trinity and Taylor and also had a son in the VIPS program and she feels she learned a lot as well.

"Small details that really help your child succeed that there's no manual for that, you kind of usually learn it through trial and error, but a program like VIPs puts it all in perspective for you," Terri said.
Getting families and kids excited about college, the VIPS program can help change how students see themselves and the possibilities that await with hard work.

"The aspirations for education attainment soars and that's something that I know VIPs has been completely influential in," Lyons said.

"It's about creating a ripple effect and so by investing in one student or a group of students, those students will then go on to invest in other students," Dr. Tunstall explained.

For more information, visit www.aap.ucla.edu/units/vip-scholars.

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