Newswise — A new statewide service program is providing meaningful work experience to college students and helping them pay for their education while building more equitable communities across California. Launched in January by the Office of the Governor's California Volunteers, the #CaliforniansForAll College Corps connects students with service opportunities in fields like K-12 education, food insecurity and climate action.

California Volunteers has selected 45 colleges and universities statewide to serve as College Corps partner campuses including 16 CSU institutions: CSU BakersfieldChico StateCSU Dominguez HillsCal State East BayFresno StateCal Poly HumboldtCal State Long BeachCal State LACSU Monterey BayCal Poly PomonaSacramento StateCal State San BernardinoSan Francisco StateSan José StateCal Poly San Luis Obispo and Stanislaus State.

California Volunteers recently inducted 3,200 students into the first class of College Corps fellows, more than 1,300 of whom are from the CSU—roughly 60 percent of the entire cohort.

“The CSU is proud to be a part of this important statewide initiative that so closely aligns with our mission and core values," CSU Chancellor Jolene Koester says. “This next generation of service-minded leaders will not only earn funds to support their higher education journey, but they will also make a positive impact in their communities that will span generations."

​​​​Providing Relevant Experience

“College Corps connects students with work opportunities that directly impact their career path and prepare them for navigating a complex workforce," says Christina Gonzalez-Salgado, College Corps Coordinator at Cal Poly Pomona. “Additionally, 90 of their service hours can be used for professional development—​from their service site, campus and California Volunteers—including training specific to their fellowship and on topics like navigating supervisor relationships, time management, career development and self-care."

CPP College Corps students, for example, are performing a wide variety of roles in which they tutor children in underserved neighborhoods, learn how to install solar panels, provide information on urban and community farming, help those with disabilities develop motor skills and even manage social media marketing and promotion.

Natalie Gudino Quiles, a Cal Poly Pomona senior studying hospitality management, turned her passion for tackling food insecurity into a College Corps fellowship with the Lopez Urban Farm.

“As an advocate for the farm, I help grow and harvest produce for the community and educate community members on urban farming and making healthier food choices," Gudino Quiles says. “The work I am performing through this program is completely relevant to my career goals and gives me a professional setting to gain experience in the industry."

Stanislaus State junior Ruben Marquez Jimenez—a fellow with the Stanislaus County Office of Education​ (SCOE)—says what he values most is how much the work relates to his future career aspirations. Marquez Jimenez is majoring in political science and Spanish with minors in history and Latin American Studies and is passionate about helping people pursue higher education through his fellowship.

“In addition to working closely with the Stanislaus Cradle to Career Partnership and the 6 Cups to College Mentoring Program, I'm helping organize a pre-law day to educate community members on the steps to becoming a lawyer and expose them to the field," Marquez Jimenez says. “I am also really interested in immigrants' rights and immigration reform, and I love that I get to pursue those interests while benefiting my community."

Marquez Jimenez says that, unlike some typical jobs for young people, his site supervisors are sensitive to his needs as a student and are committed to mentoring him and introducing him to professional connections.

“They understand that being a college student comes first and they want us to gain skills in our field more than anything else," he says.​

​​​Helping Pay for College

Through College Corps, students can earn $10,000 for completing 450 hours of service to their community. CSU Bakersfield sophomore Alondra Carreno, an after-school teacher's aide with the Boys & Girls Club at Donald E. Suburu Elementary School, says the money has been a huge help for her.

“My financial aid doesn't cover all of my expenses, so I had to take out loans my first year," Carreno says. “Receiving this money means I don't have to stress about how I'm going to pay for school, groceries and other expenses, and I can continue living on campus while I earn my degree."

The statewide service program is also the first of its kind available to AB540-eligible Dreamers. Marquez Jimenez says he is grateful that the College Corps program is inclusive of undocumented students like him who don't qualify for federal financial aid or work-study, as well as many internships and fellowships, because of their immigration status.

“But we still have the same financial needs as other college students," Marquez Jimenez says. “This program allows for students like me to benefit from professional development that we don't usually get."

College Corps also has the potential to open doors for more students from underserved backgrounds who may not think they can afford to attend college. In fact, CPP's Gonzalez-Salgado says she's received inquiries from students who have decided to apply to the university because they may be able to get some extra financial help through the program.

​​​Fostering a Sense of Belonging

To be a College Corps partner campus, universities and colleges applied separately or as a consortium and were awarded grants from multiple sources, including the state and AmeriCorps. The program is administered at the CSU by the selected campus partners and supported by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) housed in the CSU Chancellor's Office.

Each participating university has a program coordinator who recruits students and helps them complete the application process, locate a service site that serves their interests and stay on track to fulfilling their required hours. Staff also regularly check in with fellows to ensure they are doing well academically and personally.

“College Corps fellows are guided through their service year by staff who are invested in their personal and professional development, and their well-being," says CCE Director Judy Botelho. “Students become more connected to their campus and to their community, which increases their sense of belonging and encourages persistence to earning a bachelor's degree."

​The College Corps program is very much aligned with the CSU's own mission of public service and decades-long commitment to providing opportunities for impactful community engagement for students, particularly those from historically underserved communities. In 2020-21, more than 38,000 CSU student volunteers contributed 728,000 hours of service to their communities through service learning.​​

To learn more about how the CSU serves California through service learning, visit the Center for Community Engagement website.