L.A. stories of inspiration and success

L.A. stories of inspiration and success

Boyle Heights native Justin Rios wearing a Columbia University sweatshirt and holding a Columbia pennant
Boyle Heights native Justin Rios participated in a virtual Hire LA's Youth internship at the Boyle Heights Technology YouthSource Center (YSC). Justin said that the internship helped him discover his passion for computer science.

The placement also gave him the confidence to successfully apply for and participate in two prestigious opportunities: conducting research on computational biology through USC's Young Researchers Program; and participating in Carnegie Mellon's program for Computer Science Scholars- one of the most competitive programs in computer science available to high school students.

"Attaining these two incredible opportunities wouldn't have been possible without the knowledge and experience I had gained from completing the internship with the Boyle Heights Technology YouthSource Center," Justin said.

Last year, Justin applied for the QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship, a program for first-generation, low-income students that allow them to attend renowned institutions at no cost. He was one of 79 students awarded a full four-year scholarship.

Justin is currently in his first semester at Columbia University in New York City.

"I am beyond elated for Justin and his continued success," said Sandy Umanzor, director of the Boyle Heights Tech YSC. "This goes to show that when we design programs and curricula around our youth with cultural competence, we are more likely to have a profound impact with them."

Justin Rios, In His Own Words
quotation markGrowing up in Boyle Heights, we students are faced with obstacles that hold us back from receiving a better future. Most of us grow up in single-parent households and have witnessed gang violence first-hand, and sometimes dropping out of high school is inevitable. As a first-generation low-income student, I had always believed that higher education was far out of my reach. My community was not conducive to learning. I was more exposed to gangs, drug dealers, and other students who were not motivated to do well in school, which is what fed into my mindset of not reaching my full potential. During the pandemic, I was finally able to come to my senses and realized that I wanted to change the way young people like myself, from communities like mine, had thought about school. I was tired of seeing my mother come home exhausted from her two jobs and was especially tired of seeing my family always struggling to make ends meet when paying bills. The vicious cycle that was passed down through generations in my family needed to be broken.

Thus, I started to look for opportunities to make my resume the strongest it could possibly be in time for college applications. I reached out to my counselor that I was looking for stem-related opportunities and she handed me a flyer from Hire LA’s Youth, which was looking for applicants. I applied on the Hire LA website and saw that the Boyle Heights Technology YouthSource Center was an option, and I knew I wanted to intern there. Within weeks I was notified that I was offered a position for the internship. This internship was my starting point, I was able to discover my passion for computer science by completing the Career EDGE program. Completing this internship gave me confidence and allowed me to branch out and seek other opportunities. For example, I was one of fifteen students selected to participate in USC’s Young Researchers Program to conduct a research project on computational biology. I was also accepted into one of the most competitive programs for computer science that was available to high school students, Carnegie Mellon’s Pre-College Program: Computer Science Scholars (CSS).

Attaining these two incredible opportunities wouldn’t have been possible without the knowledge and experience I had gained from completing the internship with the Boyle Heights Technology YouthSource Center. Because of my extracurricular activities and professional experiences, I created a very solid resume that I used to apply to multiple universities. Around this time last year, I made the bold decision to apply to one of the most prestigious and competitive scholarships in the nation, the QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship. QuestBridge is a scholarship program for first-generation, low-income students that allow them to attend renowned institutions at no cost. I applied thinking that I wouldn’t stand a chance at receiving this scholarship due to its competitive nature, but in early December of last year, I was notified I was one of the seventy-nine students who were awarded a full four-year scholarship to Columbia University in the City of New York. I was extremely grateful to be selected for such a prestigious scholarship to attend one of the best universities in the world, at that moment, I realized that all my work had finally paid off.

Now almost halfway through my first semester at Columbia University, I have decided to major in Computer Science. While being here, I hope to be able to create computer applications that help other first-generation, low-income students like myself discover opportunities that support their education. I know how hard it is to find opportunities with no guidance, so creating those computer applications is vital for me to do. I will not only go to college to graduate and then find a job to live a better life, but I also hope to be able to come back to my community to motivate others to attend college and break the generational cycle of poverty that has been in their family for far too long.

YouthSource: Helping LA Youth Achieve Their Dreams

EWDD’s 14 YouthSource Centers provide young Angelenos ages 14 to 24 years the support and resources they need to succeed in school and life. The centers are strategically located in the City’s underserved neighborhoods. Services are offered in multiple languages.

Learn more about the many programs and benefits our centers offer through EWDD Youth Services and YouthSource Centers.


YouthSource Alum, Now an Ivy League Grad
Ana Maria Sotomayor Palomino will soon be a Princeton graduate thanks, in part, to the California Workforce Association (CWA) scholarship and the mentoring support she received while enrolled in the YouthSource program.

YouthSource Guiding Youth to Better Paths: Three Stories of Postive Change
Three inspiring stories of change from Para Los Niños (PLN), which operates the Northeast and Central LA YouthSource Centers.

Internships Place YouthSource Participants on a Path to Success

This story is part of the EWDD UPDATES from the week of November 7, 2022. Read this issue and more.

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