REACH Summer Business Camp Helps At-Risk Students Succeed in Higher Education

Edison International recently awarded a $35,000 grant to the University of La Verne to help support the REACH program.

June 20, 2014 | By Ron Gales

Lanell Whitfield, a junior from Firebaugh High School in Lynwood, had other ideas about his future, but after visiting Southern California Edison’s (SCE) Energy Education Center in Irwindale, he now thinks a career at a utility may be an option.

“I may consider it as a career field for the future,” he said.

Whitfield was one of 53 high school juniors who recently visited SCE’s Energy Education Center, where they were guided through state-of-the-art educational displays of electrical innovation. The students were part of the REACH Business Camp, a three-week summer program offered to Southern California 11th-graders by the University of La Verne.

SCE is a sponsor of the nine-year-old program, which exposes at-risk students to professional workplace environments, and provides them with tools for successfully applying to and attending college. In April, SCE’s parent company, Edison International, awarded a grant of $35,000 to the University of La Verne, in part to support the REACH Program.

“Our company and the University of La Verne share a commitment to helping students from underserved communities succeed,” said Thomas Calabro, a Local Public Affairs director at SCE. “Edison International is proud to support programs like the REACH Business Camp that helps students in school today while opening doors to higher education in their future. “

Many of the students agreed that touring the Energy Center made an impression on them.

“I learned a lot about things I didn’t even think about before … different kinds of lighting used for different purposes,” said Angelica Ramirez of Covina’s Northview High School.

“It made me think about all the things that go into starting my own business,” said Jordyn Razo from Covina High School. “It was a really fun, a really cool experience.”

REACH provides a curriculum of business and management instruction, hosts guest speakers from the business world, organizes field trips like the one to SCE’s Irwindale facility and provides guidance in SAT test-taking and skill-building in the college application and interview process. According to the program, 98 percent of its students go on to attend two- or four-year institutions.

Dr. Issam Ghazzawi, director of the REACH Business Camp and a University of La Verne professor of Management, noted that many of the REACH students are first-generation minorities who are getting their first taste of college.

The program helps the students “break the fear cycle that tells them that college is something unattainable,” he said.

SCE technical specialist Ann Almonte spoke about her 23-year career at SCE, noting how she didn’t understand anything the engineers were saying when she first started working at the company.

And she had these words of advice for the REACH students: “I had a desire to grow, to learn more. I had to take the initiative. Don't wait for the door to be opened, build the door and you'll find wonderful opportunities unfold.”