Inspiring Kennedy High alum urges students to be pro-active about college

Claudia Campos, a Kennedy High alum, stands in front of her current school, UC Berkeley.

Although Claudia Campos’ parents don’t have college degrees, they drilled the importance of achieving one in her mind.

“My parents always said, college is the way, college is the way,” Campos said. “They never gave me another option.”

And so Campos, who was Kennedy High’s valedictorian in 2012, refused to let the lack of college counseling options at her high school get in the way of her goal.

Because Kennedy’s only counselor at the time was “always busy with suspensions and detentions,” Campos said she felt compelled to start something akin to a student-run college center.

edit.6-28That initiative was just one of the many reasons Campos was awarded a $1,000 Chevron Richmond Somos – Latin American and Hispanic Employee Network scholarship, which is given to high school seniors who demonstrate scholastic achievement, community involvement and leadership skills.

Having just completed her second year at UC Berkeley, Campos was the keynote speaker at a recent Somos scholarship award dinner honoring the 2014 scholarship recipients.

Since the event, Campos says she is still looking for ways to give back to her community. In an interview with the Richmond Standard, she reflected upon what it was like to come from a high school where students can barely fathom going to college let alone know how to apply for financial aid.

“At Kennedy, the students come from working class, low-income families where their families knew nothing about college,” Campos said. “When we graduate it’s typically better to get a job to help out our families.”

But Campos said with even a little guidance, many Kennedy High students can realize they are college material.

At the start of her senior year, Campos, who had been inspired by her experience at The Gooden College Connection, joined her peers in holding a meeting among students at the school library. At the meeting, the majority of the 30 to 40 students in attendance expressed interest in attending college but did not know how to apply.

Based upon that meeting, Campos and her classmates started the FREED MINDS club. They began working with qualified students to identify college options, made regular announcements on application deadlines, held workshops on personal statements and financial aid, and even hosted a mock SAT examination.

“We graded the exam ourselves,” Campos said.

Even if a students’ scores weren’t high, and many weren’t, the FREED MINDS club members explained they can improve with practice, and also that their extra-curricular activities mattered.

“A lot of students were afraid; should we even waste our time?” Campos said. “But a lot were very well-rounded. They were in sports, leadership, all different clubs.”

On application day for California State University schools, the FREED MINDS club had the computer lab ready for students to apply, and more than half who did so were accepted, Campos said.

Campos also made copies of a school binder filled of scholarship opportunities and passed them around to interested students. That binder was where Campos learned about the Chevron Richmond Somos scholarship.

“It’s free money for college….all you need is an essay,” Campos said. “They are paying money for students they feel can help in the community and do something great once they get to college. I was honored to be selected.”

Campos added, “What I liked about the scholarship is once I received the money, they didn’t lose contact. [Adrienne Aguilar, who runs the Chevron Richmond Somos scholarship program,] kept in touch, asking how my semester has been. The support as much as the money helps.”

Campos says she’s thoroughly enjoying her diverse experiences at Cal, where she is majoring in public health with a minor in education. Her end goal is to be a dentist.