By Mai P. Tran, ECMC Foundation
Going to college was never a question for Franz Chee who came to the U.S. from the Philippines at age 10. From the moment the Bright Prospect student arrived, Chee says he realized "how lucky" he was to "come to a country that provides opportunities" for economic mobility.
Franz Chee (left) with his Bright Prospect coach Edgar Arreola (right)
Having "experienced poverty" in his home country, he says that he has "never taken it [education] for granted." Believing that education was his ticket to the American Dream, Chee "always had the college mindset."
While the ambitious and determined student never doubted whether he should attend college, Chee struggled to navigate the complex steps necessary to meet this goal. With parents who did not have experience applying for college in the United States, he lacked guidance at home. "I had to figure it out myself because my parents didn't know," he says.
During his sophomore year at Garey High School, Chee heard about Bright Prospect, a Southern California-based nonprofit that provides wraparound academic services and counseling to students in the Pomona Unified School District. The organization empowers students to gain admission to, succeed in and graduate from college. The majority of students in the district that Bright Prospect serves, like Chee, are low-income and are the first in their families to go to college.
Bright Prospect coaches provide small group and individual counseling and support for students. Chee says his coaches helped him complete his college applications and personal statement essays.
This upcoming fall, Chee will be attending his dream school, Swarthmore College located in Pennsylvania. At the College Decision Day celebration hosted by Bright Prospect this month, he proudly announced his college choice and thanked his coaches for their mentorship and guidance.
However, he was not always sure about moving to the East Coast for college. "My parents work a lot and usually it's just my younger brother and sister and I at home," he says. "A lot of times, I cook breakfast and dinner for them and I was worried that no one would look after them if I left."
If it wasn't for one of Chee's coaches, Edgar Arreola, the intended Engineering and Environmental Studies student says he may have turned down his offer to one of the top engineering undergraduate programs in the country. Arreola's encouraging advice persuaded Chee to make the best decision for him: "I told him it would be okay and his younger brother who is 15 would have the opportunity to step up." Arreola also reminded him of his long-term goals: "I told him that going to the best school would help him succeed, accomplish his goals and ultimately help his family in the long run."
Chee says his favorite thing about the program is the "caring and welcoming environment" created by his Crew, Bright Prospect's signature strategy for success. Each Crew is made up of five to seven peers that provide each other encouragement and support to achieve personal and academic goals. When one of Chee's Crew members was struggling in her personal life and failing her classes, they teamed up to tutor her. Chee says he also "sent her inspirational quotes, encouraging her to push through."
Franz Chee announces his college choice at his College Signing Day celebration hosted by Bright Prospect
When Chee goes to college next year, he plans to stay connected with the organization. Its College Retention Program will connect him with a coach to provide support and help him persist through and graduate from college. The program also offers professional development and career preparation workshops to help students with resumes, interviewing techniques, networking skills and more.
"We don't experience many issues with students getting into college; the problem is getting them to graduate," says Arreola. Nationally, only 11 percent of low-income, first-generation students who begin college graduate within six years. Arreola says that oftentimes, it's the "support that students receive" when they "hit major obstacles," that helps them persist and complete college.
Chee has already been connected to Bright Prospect students at Swarthmore College. He admits he is a little nervous about his next big adventure, "but with my Bright Prospect support network, I know I will be fine."
In 2016, ECMC Foundation made investments to support Bright Prospect's College Retention program's staffing and IT needs, among other components of the program. Funds also support Bright Prospect's pre-college retreat, which takes place in June and prepares students for their college experience. Learn more about Bright Prospect.