Compilation of portraits of Mariah Caseres, Eloisa Varela and Aaron Carrera.
Recent CSUN graduates Mariah Caseres, Eloisa Varela and Aaron Carrera, members of the inaugural cohort of the Bridge to the Future program.

The CSUN Bridge to the Future program, which removes many of the barriers to academic success by providing a tuition-free CSUN education to students from Canoga Park High School, has just celebrated its first cohort of graduates.

Bridge to the Future launched in 2017 as part of CSUN’s Institute for Community Health and Wellbeing’s Neighborhood Partners in Action initiative in Canoga Park. CSUN faculty visited nonprofit organizations and schools, talked to community leaders, and learned that financial issues were a huge factor in local students’ decisions whether to attend college.

Each year, the program provides a four-year, tuition-free education to 25 students from Canoga Park High School. The program gives students support such as tutoring, academic counseling, financial help and an overall family atmosphere. According to the program’s leadership at CSUN, the goal is to establish sustainable relationships between CSUN and the community, and create a college-going culture in Canoga Park. As Bridge to the Future Scholars, students participate in 20 hours of service in the community every semester, in an effort to foster a sense of pride within Canoga Park.

The program is an opportunity to build CSUN’s commitment to supporting under-resourced communities, to make a college degree a reality for youth, and build an educational pipeline for both families and the community, according to David Boyns, professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Community Health and Wellbeing and the Bridge to the Future Program.

Of the original 2017 cohort, 18 graduated in May, and the others are on track to do so soon. students from the first cohort entered CSUN while remedial courses were still required, leaving a few students unable to finish within four years. An extension of program services and tuition waivers was provided to students who didn’t finish within four years, said Diane Stephens, associate vice president for Academic Resources and Planning.

Eloisa Varela ’21 (Public Health) set her life on course, thanks to the program. Varela dreamed of attending college, but the cost of attending for her and her two siblings made it seem like a near-impossible task for.

This is where the program stepped in. Bridge to the Future allowed Varela and her two sibilings, who followed her into the program at CSUN, the opportunity they dreamed of. Eloisa Varela plans to return to her university studies in fall 2022 and apply for the nursing program at CSUN.

“If this program wasn’t here for me, I would have had to find a different route and I truthfully don’t know where I’d be in life today,” said Varela. “Three children in college is nothing cheap, so this was everything to me and my family, accomplishing our dreams and goals. Now that I have succeeded through the program, I want to go back to help the future students. The people who I looked up to during my time in the program mean everything to me, so I want to have the same impact on future generations as I advance in my career.”

Bridge to the Future graduate Mariah Caseres ’21 (Art) gives a lot of credit to the program for leading her to a degree. Next, she will apply to a master’s program in social work at CSUN. She is interested in pursuing her license in art therapy or going abroad and working for nonprofit organizations in the future.

“[Bridge to the Future staff] really pushed me forward in my journey to get my degree,” Caseres said. “Without [the program], I probably would have ended up at a community college and having to work two jobs. Rather than putting the money I earned from work [into] my tuition, I was able to use it to help my family out with expenses and loans. I was also able to save money and put it into my grad school education.”

This fall, CSUN is welcoming 24 new Bridge to the Future Scholars as the fifth cohort from Canoga Park High School to CSUN this Fall.

“The opportunity to work with these dedicated students during their academic journeys is the greatest honor and joy of my academic career,” Boyns said.

Bridge to the Future students build strong relationships with their peers in the program. As Canoga Park alumni, they share a similar journey and drive for success.

Aaron Carrera ’21 (Political Science) is a strong example. He credits the program and members of his cohort with helping him navigate his way through college and for being there for him, emotionally and financially. With an interest in local politics, he hopes to spark change within his community, Carrera said.

“[My] fellow students assisted academically and provided a friendly environment,” he said. “I am also thankful for the staff of the program, for allowing me the privilege to become a Scholar. I really couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be around me. … We went to the same high school and got through this together, so we’ll always have a bond.”


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