10 Life-Changing Days
Paris Taylor faced enormous challenges, including two severe learning disabilities. While attending high school, she was her mother’s primary caregiver. When her mother died of cancer, Paris became homeless. Nevertheless, she enrolled at Santa Monica College and worked hard to achieve a 3.65 GPA, and the SMC community recognized her promise. “I didn’t see it in myself,” she said, “but SMC counselors and professors did—and they wanted me to succeed.”
Today, Paris—who once thought, “People like me don’t go to schools like that”—is a recently graduated alum and a student with a full scholarship at Columbia University. Before heading to Columbia, Paris was one of 26 SMC students who participated in a 10-day research residency this summer called URSA at Loyola Marymount University (LMU). URSA—the Undergraduate Research Scholars Academy—aims to expand educational opportunities for high-achieving, traditionally underrepresented students.
URSA partners with a number of community colleges. At SMC, the program serves students active in the Black Collegians, Adelante, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) communities.
URSA is rigorous. Students live for 10 days on the LMU campus, where they are paired with an LMU faculty member who guides them through a research project. At the end of the program, the SMC students present their research to an audience of peers, professors, college administrators, and others.
An introduction to the “nuts and bolts” of research takes place on Day One. Throughout the 10 days, students interact with professors, both one-on-one and in informal groups. There are also lectures, where students learn how to use research libraries and access databases and scholarly journals. Then, there are sessions in which “soft skills” are the focus: how to give presentations, public speaking skills, and networking.
“Networking and time management are two skills I learned from URSA and have put into regular practice ever since.”
– Precious Onuohah, 2016 SMC Graduate
URSA founder and director Dr. Paul Jimenez, a professor at both LMU and SMC, points out that research—an essential skill for higher education—is something many students fear, often having little experience in it. “At URSA, we help students navigate the research process so they can gain confidence in doing research, an extra tool in their kits for academic success.”
Maria Zamudia-Lopez—an undocumented “Deferred Action for Child Arrivals” (DACA) student—is a sociology and Chicano Studies major at SMC. She hopes to transfer to LMU or UCLA, and credits URSA with showing her how valuable libraries and librarians are to researchers.
Through her URSA research, Maria discovered a bill moving through California’s legislature proposing the creation of resource centers at public colleges to help undocumented students succeed in reaching their education goals. In their final URSA presentation, she and her research partner proposed that these centers also be established at the high school level.
While doing research is half the battle, sharing it in a public forum is a whole different challenge URSA works to help participants overcome. With constructive criticism from communication experts and faculty, students learn how to create an effective PowerPoint presentation and craft a speech, how to gesture with their hands and project their voices, and how to move onstage and connect with their audience.
To find out more about URSA, and how you can be a part of it this summer, visit www.ursascholars.org. You can also call the Black Collegians program at (310) 434-3635 or the Latino Center at (310) 434-4459 for more details.