Scholarship students learn the ‘write’ stuff for college
For college-bound teens, the pressure is intense to display first-rate writing skills in exams like the SAT essay and personal statements for college applications. Three years ago, UCLA Writing Programs
stepped in to help. Drawing on two decades spent working closely with incoming Bruins to bring their writing skills up to the college level, the program launched a three-week summer writing workshop for teens entering their senior year of high school.
Student Tavion Britt (center) and his mother, Tina Redmond, chat with Bruce Beiderwell, director of UCLA Writing Programs, during a reception to honor scholarship recipients and donors.
Dozens of students signed up that summer for a class that covered everything from the components of good writing to the painstaking process of revising. But there was one problem with that inaugural session, said program director and teacher Bruce Beiderwell: Students who could benefit the most weren’t signing up for the class. Teens who attend underserved high schools, for example, or those whose families simply couldn’t swing the $1,044 tuition for the two-college-credit course.
So two years ago, the Writing Program solicited contributions from campus units and donors, and a scholarship program was created. This summer, scholarships enabled deserving students like aspiring screenwriter Tavion Britt and six others selected from a field of 22 applicants to attend the class that ran July 10-31.
"This class was very inspirational. It has prepared me for my 12th-grade English class, which is nothing but writing essays," said Britt, a student at Park View Prep, a charter high school in South Los Angeles, during a reception last week for students, parents and the donors. "The class has also prepared me for my personal statement when I apply to UCLA," said Britt, who hopes to attend the School of Theater, Film and Television.
Said his mother, Tina Redmond, of the scholarship he received, "It really helped us a lot, because I know I couldn’t afford to send him." She and her son recently moved from Atlanta to L.A., where she is working temp jobs while caring for her ill mother. Theirs were among the many heartfelt remarks made during the reception.
Student Anastasia Magana (left) and Fereshteh Diba, who provided her scholarship, meet at the reception.
"It’s not every day that a person like me gets an opportunity like this," said Berkeley High School student Anastasia Magana, who has bounced back and forth between the Bay Area and Los Angeles following her parents’ divorce. Her eyes misting, she told her scholarship benefactor, Fereshteh Diba, a member of the UCLA Foundation, "I’d really like to thank you from the bottom of my heart, because it really means a lot."
The Friends of English, the College of Letters and Science, Summer Sessions and the Writing Programs also funded the scholarships, which, said Beiderwell, have noticeably enhanced the workshop’s socioeconomic diversity.
"That first year, before we had the scholarships, it was a very good class, but they didn’t look like a UCLA class," said Beiderwell. The broader-based enrollment — which includes a growing number of out-of-state and international students — also reinforces his view that the workshop is much more than a writing class, particularly for the scholarship recipients.
"It’s an opportunity to be exposed to a place that is really very new to them," said Beiderwell, who recalled taking all 46 students for a walk around campus with co-instructor Teddi Chichester on their first day of class. "For students who have grown up in a college-going environment," Beiderwell said, seeing a college campus is nothing new. "They’ve been there, done that." But for the scholarship recipients, seeing UCLA students deep in research at Powell Library or writing papers at Kerckhoff Coffee House was very new.
"We want them to see that the university is a special place," said Beiderwell. Touring the campus orients students to the significance of "all matters of language and communication at the university" — not just the written word, but "every comment you make in class and every email you write to an instructor."
Students Tavion Britt (from left), Gennevieve Silprasit and Dylan Adkins.
"It really improved my writing skills," said Dylan Adkins, who attends Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks. His family has experienced job layoffs and cancer in the past year, as well as the death of his beloved grandfather, a church pastor, whom he wrote about in his application for the scholarship. "My grandfather enjoyed writing his sermons," Adkins wrote. "I remember him saying that he improved over time. … With practice, he became more confident in his writing."
Of his own growing self-assurance, Adkins said at the reception, "I thought I was an okay writer, but after this, I’m more confident about my writing. I won’t be nervous about writing a paper. I think I can just get it done without having too many issues."
Dean of Humanities David Schaberg offered some advice to Britt, recipient of the division’s scholarship, over lunch at the reception. "Once you know how to write well," Schaberg said, "you can write your own ticket. Writing well is one of the things that can move you most quickly, most amazingly, from a position of relative disadvantage to a position of power and opportunity."
Armine Sanosyan, who attended the reception as an alumna of last summer’s scholarship group, said that her world — which had previously been limited to attending private Armenian schools — expanded in the class.
"Getting to know people of different cultures and races was unbelievable," Sanosyan said. What’s more, she excitedly added, "it prepared me for this fall … because I’m going to be a Bruin in September!"