AltaSea’s College Corps Fellows

By Emily Vidovich. Emily has a background in environmental journalism and sustainability and is a member of the George Washington University Class of 2019.

Photo: Governor Newsom poses with the first class of College Corps Fellows during their swearing-in ceremony on October 7, 2022.

In 2022, California launched its College Corps Fellows program—a select fleet of several thousand students paid by the state to complete a year-long work experience at community-based organizations. In last year’s fellowship cycle, College Corps had programs at over fifty universities and placed students at organizations focusing on climate action, food security, and K-12 education.

College Corps is designed to help low-income students pay for college while gaining valuable career experience. Students working for free, provided they receive college credit, has long been viewed as an inevitability–particularly for the non-profit sector and small, community-based organizations that do not have the budget to fund interns. Because of this, students who have to rely on loans or paid employment to support themselves through college often miss out on career-building internship experiences.

This reality exacerbates existing inequalities, as the students with the free time and necessary financial position to undertake unpaid internships are often wealthier. Consequently, wealthier students are more likely to graduate with the internship experience needed to be considered a competitive applicant for well-paid, career-track jobs or be accepted into postgraduate educational programs. College Corps hopes to circumvent this catch 22 of cyclical poverty by providing fellows with a substantial stipend so that they can both cover their living expenses and build professional skills.

AltaSea’s College Corps Fellow, Janet Parga, is proof that this model is working. In an interview conducted via email, Parga explained that personal financial struggles were central to her motivation to apply for College Corps.

“I had stopped pursuing a college education because I worked full-time and felt like I had to give up one to succeed in [the] other,” Parga said. “I reached a point where I didn’t want to continue to sacrifice my education for a job where I didn’t feel satisfied.”

Thanks to College Corps, Parga was able to continue her studies at CSU Dominguez Hills while gaining experience in non-profit outreach as a member of AltaSea’s team. She said that the experience has reinforced her love of learning and allowed her to discover her passion for community work.

“The College Corps program allows us to focus on our studies while investing in our future,” she said.

Parga expects to graduate in 2025. After completing college, she plans to continue working in nonprofits and pursue a doctorate degree. She also is looking forward to participating in the College Corps’ Corps to Careers program, which creates a career pathway for fellows within one of College Corps’ partner organizations.

Another College Corps Fellow, Jorge Diaz, was placed at Braid Theory at AltaSea’s Port of Los Angeles campus. Diaz is a student at Cerritos College with plans to transfer to UCLA in fall 2024. He has emerged as one of South Los Angeles’ preeminent young leaders–he has served on City of Lynwood’s Planning Commission for the past year, advocating for the well-being of Lynwood residents.

Earlier this year, Diaz was also appointed to Los Angeles County’s Youth Climate Commission. The 25-member commission is coordinated by the Chief Sustainability Office and provides input to the Board of Supervisors on the County’s climate-related goals, plans, actions, policies and initiatives.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn released a statement about the appointment of Diaz to the commission. “Southeast LA has no shortage of bright, passionate young leaders, and Jorge embodies that leadership,” said Hahn. “Lynwood and its neighbors are some of the communities most impacted by pollution and the climate crisis in Los Angeles County. We needed that voice on the Youth Climate Commission and Jorge answered that call.”

Diaz credits his College Corps experience with equipping him with the knowledge and experience necessary to be selected for this role.

“I was able to take what I’m learning about climate action in College Corps and apply it to the LA County Youth Climate Commission; and I was able to get appointed to the commission thanks to the opportunities brought to me [by] Braid Theory,” Diaz said.

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