Cal State San Bernardino was chosen to be one of 45 initial partner campuses in the 2022-23 academic year to participate in the statewide #CaliforniansforAll College Corps program that combines academic and hands-on work experience.  

Located in CSUSB’s Office of Pre-College Programs, College Corps is part of California’s first-of-its kind state service and career development program. This groundbreaking initiative provides students with financial support and professional experience while engaging in meaningful community action around education, climate and food insecurity.

CSUSB’s efforts have been so successful with its first two cohorts (2022-23 and 2023-24) that the university recently received confirmation of its selection as a 2024-26 College Corps campus. This new round of funding is nearly $2.5 million, which translates to 150 more fellows over the next two years. The money will support eligible college students, including AB 540-eligible CA Dream Act students, to serve their communities.

Veronica Guzman, CSUSB’s program director, was involved in the application to extend the university’s participation in the program. She is delighted that it will continue. “More students are returning. And more students are getting involved,” Guzman said. “And it’s not just the financial benefit of being able to meet the costs of college. It’s also building their skills and connections to lead to future employment.”

CSUSB’s office serves the entire region where its students come from, including the High Desert and the Coachella Valley. The university’s current partners are largely involved in K-12 education. The participants, or “fellows,” have the goal of helping younger generations not only see the value of a college education, but also connect with a college mentor who demonstrates to them that attending college is an attainable goal.

Guzman confirms that it is “really, truly a service-learning program throughout the state. It also enables students to get engaged in their local communities. The participants learn how to network, build their skills, and derive a financial benefit, as well.”

She emphasized that the students are serving communities while earning money. “Another of the program’s goals is to decrease the amount of debt that a student takes on,” Guzman said. “It is also open to our AB 540 or ‘Dreamer’ students — the first program in our state to do that.”

While she sees a lot of focus on the financial aspect of the program, she clarified, “College Corps is really about building skills and adding to their resumes. Students can take these with them post-program, which makes them more competitive in their career search.”

The program offers in-house development with its fellows, as well. Training includes monthly workshops, helping fellows shape their resumes, and invitations to monthly engagement events and networking.

“We want to build a community for our fellows on the campus with the other students in the program,” Guzman said. She noted that the connections being built between the first two fellows cohorts are adding depth to the students’ experience.

The organization Growing Inland Achievement (GIA) is a committed partner of CSUSB’s College Corps. GIA convenes the Inland Empire College Fellowship Consortium, which is comprised of all the College Corps programs throughout Riverside and San Bernardino counties. GIA recently held a full day of networking, which included CSUSB; the University of California, Riverside; College of the Desert; the Riverside Community College District and the San Bernardino Community College District. Two convenings of this type are scheduled per year.

This year, CSUSB hosted the Mid-Year Leadership Workshop for California Volunteers. The event brought together over 600 fellows from the Inland Empire, as well as San Diego and Orange counties, at the San Bernardino campus. California State Assemblymember James Ramos and Josh Fryday, chief service officer of the State of California, attended the event and shared words of encouragement as the 2023-24 fellows approached the final half of their service term. 

Becoming a fellow requires completing 450 hours of service with College Corps. This translates into 10-15 hours per week for the academic year. CSUSB fellows must be enrolled as an undergraduate at the university, be able to provide documentation of resident status as a U.S. citizen, national or lawful permanent resident. AB 540 Dreamer students are also eligible if they meet DSIG eligibility.

Upon completion of the program, participants can earn a financial benefit valued up to $10,000. Additional benefits include real-world job experience and skills to build resumes, as well as access to training, networking and professional development opportunities. Building ties with the other fellows, while knowing they are giving back to their communities, are some of the intangible benefits.

“The fellows are incredibly dedicated to going back to, and being with, their home communities in this way,” said Guzman.

For an organization to become a community partner, it must be a non-profit or governmental organization; work in K-12 education, climate action or food insecurity; and be able to host at least two fellows along with providing on-site effective training, mentoring and supervision for them. In return, that organization will receive 15 hours per week of direct support from fellows for the academic year and build connections with area higher education institutions. In addition, the organization will gain access to training and networking opportunities provided by partner campuses and California Volunteers, the state office which oversees the entire initiative.

Guzman loves to hear the stories participants share when they come back to campus. “One fellow managed a full after-school theatre program for elementary schools. They created the play and sent out the invitation to students’ families. So many school children, school site personnel and parents expressed their gratitude for the work our fellow did.” She noted that, as our region is still in recovery mode from the pandemic, an activity like this provides students a project with which they can engage.

Other stories include a fellow who leads education classes with younger kids at the Palm Springs Air Museum. In this fellow’s application, he mentioned he was interested in flying and wanted to learn how to fly one day. So, this particular match of fellow with assignment provided him with a chance to connect with his passion.

Another Inland Empire organization had participants assisting with student book drives. “The fellows told me that seeing those kids so happy to get their own book was incredibly meaningful, even if their actual work on the project just involved cleaning and sorting the books,” explained Guzman.

OneFuture Coachella Valley also participates in CSUSB’s College Corps initiative. A recent event included fellows involved with a couple of OneFuture’s programs.

This has truly become a movement throughout the region,” Guzman observed. The Inland Empire is geographically larger than several U.S. states, and its students (pre-K through grade 12, college and beyond) come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“This program allows our fellows to say to younger students from their home communities, ‘Hey, I’m going to hold the door open for you so that you can see what it means to be a CSUSB student. And, guess what, you can be one of those students, too.’

“The fellows and the students they are helping will have these experiences forever. That is, ultimately, the ‘why’ to the program.”

#CaliforniansForAll College Corps is administered by California Volunteers, Office of the Governor, in partnership with California colleges and universities. California Volunteers is the state office tasked with engaging Californians in service, volunteerism and civic action to tackle the state’s most pressing challenges. 

In its first year, more than 3,000 of California’s College Corps fellows served over 1.15 million hours in their communities, tutoring and mentoring students, addressing hunger and taking climate action, while learning new skills and earning money to help pay for college.

“I hope this program continues for years to come, not only in California as a whole but specifically here at CSUSB,” concluded Guzman.

For more about CSUSB’s College Corps Office, you can visit the College Corps Office website.

For more about CSUSB’s Office of Pre-College Programs, you can visit the Office of Pre-College Programs website.

For more about California Governor’s Office of Volunteers and the state-wide College Corps program, you can visit the Office of Volunteers website.