For Stuart Nealy, Cal Poly Pomona’s Reading, Advising, & Mentoring Program provided him with much more than assistance with test preparation and study habits.
RAMP, as the program is known, provided Nealy, who will graduate in June with a degree in liberal studies and a minor in regenerative studies, with a home away from home and a surrogate family.
“I was once lost, but now I’m found,” Nealy told a packed room at RAMP’s graduate recognition luncheon. “I just couldn’t find my way. I just felt something was on my back. My mother is my backbone, but she was 93 miles away. Coming here, coming to this school, you all became my family.”
Nealy was one of 22 soon-to-be graduates who were honored at the program’s ninth annual ceremony on May 18. RAMP assists nearly 250 students every year.
RAMP is a U.S. Department of Education-funded TRIO Student Support Services program that provides academic and personal support. Participants must be low-income, first-generation college students or have a documented disability.
The program offers services including reading tutorials, peer mentoring, workshops on graduate school, and help with financial aid and financial literacy, says RAMP Director Laura Ayon. The staff reaches out to incoming freshmen and transfer students through the Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships, the Educational Opportunity Program and orientation.
“The program can help any student acclimate and get more confident,” she says. “When you look at the statistics for low-income, first-generation students, and those with disabilities, there is a demonstrated need for the program.”
Ayon, a first-generation college student who is one of 16 children, says she can relate to the students in the program and hopes to share with them the idea that college is more than taking classes and earning a degree. RAMP aims to help students take advantage of summer internships and other opportunities that will mold them into well-rounded students who are prepared for the workforce, she adds.
“As a first-generation college student, many go to college with the goal of getting a degree out of it, but they are not getting the experience,” she says.
At the graduation ceremony, Carol Zitzer-Comfort (’93, master’s in English), an associate professor of English and liberal studies at Cal State Long Beach, gave the keynote address. She quoted civil rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis, urging the graduates to find ways to “get in trouble, good trouble” to fight for programs like RAMP.
“None of us gets where we are alone. Getting in good trouble means you have the responsibility to make sure these kinds of programs stay in place and stay funded,” Zitzer-Comfort said. “I have generations of people that I am standing on their shoulders and you have generations of people who you are standing on their shoulders.”