Drawing an ACE

A family of Egyptian asylum-seekers whose children got stuck in foster care gave University of California, Irvine senior Mary Sargious a $10,000 idea.

She and her mom had helped the family through church, and Sargious was inspired to craft a plan to mentor foster youths that she submitted to UCI’s XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship program, which offers financial support for “compassion in action” projects created by undergraduates. The result was a $10,000 scholarship for Sargious, a biological sciences major, and up to $10,000 more to launch her proposal.

Nicknamed Project ACE (Anteaters for College Excellence), Sargious’ program aims to pair 30 UCI student-mentors with an equal number of foster and first-generation teens from the Samueli Academy, a charter high school in Santa Ana for disadvantaged youths.

The focus is on B and C students who need “an extra push” toward college, says Sargious, an aspiring surgeon who was born in Cairo and moved to California as an infant.

Meeting weekly with the teens next spring, the mentors will give advice on college applications, personal essays and campus life. Sargious also plans to arrange field trips to UCI, Chapman University and local museums. Capping off the program will be an awareness week at UCI that highlights some of the hardships faced by such students.

The mentors will get course credit for their work. And the mentees, Sargious says, will receive invaluable guidance for the future.

“By providing [these]youths with mentorship, compassionate leadership, commitment and college preparation, it is my hope they will achieve success in their lives and become community leaders who impact the world with their strength, compassion and prosperity,” she says.

And if anyone can meet such goals, it’s Sargious, says Karina Hamilton, director of UCI’s Dalai Lama Scholarship program. “Mary is an amazing student – very personable, vivacious, passionate and hardworking.”

Since its establishment in 2004, UCI’s privately funded Dalai Lama Scholarship has been awarded to 14 undergraduates. It was created after the Tibetan spiritual leader first visited the campus. He returned in 2015 as part of his 80th birthday celebration.

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