Master's Student Honored for Academic Achievement in Face of Hardships

Master's Student Honored for Academic Achievement in Face of Hardships
Lesley Felton was recently awarded the 2006-'07 William R. Hearst/CSU Trustees Award for Outstanding Achievement.
Felton works on a model in the Interim Design Center on Oct. 28, 2005.

Although her childhood was troubled by parental illness and death, a winter of homelessness in Chicago, and financial need that sent her to work at 14, Lesley Felton is proof that higher education is accessible and achievable.

Felton, a 27-year-old Pomona resident, is now an honors student working her way to a master's degree in Cal Poly Pomona's competitive architecture program.

For her outstanding academic achievements, community service and significant personal achievements, Felton was recently awarded the 2006-'07 William R. Hearst/CSU Trustees Award for Outstanding Achievement.

The award provides $3,000 scholarships to students who have demonstrated financial need, experienced personal hardships and have attributes of merit including superior academic performance, exemplary community service and significant personal achievements.

“This is really exciting,” says Felton. “It's not pocket money for pizza. It's helping me offset the need to work. The architecture graduate program is really rigorous, so this is definitely going to help a lot.”

Felton started studying at Cal Poly Pomona in 2004. Previously, she worked as a handyman, running a construction company with her fiance in Northern California. Business was booming, but they both wanted to do more.

“We felt like we weren't making the contribution to the environment and society we wanted to make to feel content,” she said.

Felton enrolled in the university's graduate architecture program, with a focus on environmental sustainability while her fiance worked toward a master's in Regenerative Studies. Eventually they hope to create a firm focused on building environmentally-friendly buildings.

“Lesley is probably one of the most proactive, engaged, involved, won't-take-no-for-an-answer students I've ever had. She's a real joy to be around,” says professor Kip Dickson, graduate coordinator of the Architecture program. “She's got the most incredible leadership potential. I think a lot of that has to do with the passion that she has and her desire for knowledge. She's the type of student where you are very confident that they will go on to do important things when they graduate.”

As a case in point of her can-do attitude, Dickson noted that for years architecture professors were discussing the possibility of creating a focus in environmental sustainability. While discussions were taking place, the progress was slow.

“Lesley went and organized the students. She convinced the students how important it would be to push this with faculty,” he says. “She was instrumental in pushing it along.”

In the last year, the program was developed and codified.

Felton credits her success to a strong network of friends and family, including her older sister, fiance, professors and fellow graduate architecture students.

“For the first few years, my graduate class took all our classes together and were very close. Without this group of people, who pitch in and help pull each other through, I don't know if I could have made it through as far as I have,” she says.

When asked about youths who may be facing personal challenges and questioning whether earning a college degree is really possible, Felton offered some advice and encouragement.

“I'd say, get the education now. The money is out there. It can be a challenge in terms of finding scholarships and grants, but there are always loans. The toughest part is figuring out what you love to do. The money part will work itself out.”

At Cal Poly Pomona, undergraduate fees for a full academic year are only $3,015. Graduate student fees are $3,597. University of California colleges cost more than twice as much. Private colleges can charge as much as $30,000 a year.