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Three Gaurdian Scholars studying together in the library, each one looks on at the same book held by the student in the center, Juliana Lopez. Photo by Gino de GrandisSupport System

At age 5, Juliana Lopez was placed in foster care after her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Lopez bounced from home to home until she graduated from high school, turned 18 and found herself no longer eligible for federal support. Although she had the grades for college, she was having difficulty finding financial aid, let alone an affordable place to live. "It was scary. I didn't know what I was going to do," Lopez says.

Today she is living in Mary Ward Hall and enjoying her freshman year. Lopez is planning a career as a juvenile probation officer so she can help other young people. She says she would not be here without the Guardian Scholars Program. The collaboration between the campus Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and the School of Social Work was launched last summer to help students like Lopez receive the support they need to succeed.

Lopez is one of 11 Guardian Scholars receiving counseling, tutoring and housing through the program. Peer support is an added bonus. "It's really cool to meet people who went through what you did, who can relate," Lopez says.

She and her fellow scholars are beating the odds. Only 1.5 percent of all California youths who left foster care between 1992 and 2000 received associate degrees at junior colleges, and very few of those students transferred to four-year universities.

Xochitl Sanchez-Zarama, Guardian Scholars Program director and EOP precollegiate/community partnership program coordinator, founded the program with Sonja Lenz-Rashid, an assistant professor of social work. "Our goal is to empower former foster youth to fulfill their potential at SFSU by giving them personal attention, connections and access to all of the services we have and they deserve," Sanchez-Zarama says.
The founders have an ally in the San Francisco-based Stuart Foundation, which has just awarded the program $150,000, the first installment of a three-year $450,000 grant. The grant stipulates that SFSU must raise an additional $25,000 each year for housing costs.
Ten more students are expected to join the Guardian Scholars Program in the fall.

Interested in supporting the Guardian Scholars? Go to and click on "Give to SFSU."


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