Get to Know Student Gema Pena
Gema Pena is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and minor in Counseling and Helping Professions at Cal State San Bernardino. She is a San Bernardino native and first-generation student who is passionate about education and helping students succeed. After graduation, she plans to obtain her graduate degree in Counseling.
She is a part of the San Bernardino City Unified School District English Learners Program, where she helps high school students succeed in their academics by translating for them and serving as a mentor. Gema also works with the after-school program Akoma Unity Center, where she helps elementary school students learn English.
These experiences inspired Gema to change her major from Political Science to Sociology and pursue her passion in helping students.
“My English learning kids, they give me life,” said Gema. “I see the efforts that they put in, not knowing English, coming from a different country, and struggling, but still being here, thriving, and doing the best that they can.”
Gema became involved with CSUSB’s Pre-College Programs at an early age. She participated in CSUSB’s former Pre-College Program GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) from seventh grade through her first year of college. The GEAR UP program focused on increasing the college and career readiness of low-income students.
“[GEAR UP] followed the class of 2020, and they helped us with college information, trying to help low-income students get into college and guide them towards that path,” said Gema. “They gave us tutoring, took us on college tours, did summer programs, and helped me with taking summer college courses and they gave me credit. The program was amazing. They offered so many resources to our families.”
She added, “I owe a lot of who I am and where I am to the GEAR UP program.”
Gema now pays it forward and serves as a mentor for CSUSB’s Cal-SOAP (California Student Opportunity and Access Program), a college access and readiness program that improves the flow of information about postsecondary education and financial aid while raising the achievement levels. The program serves any student in the Inland Empire but focuses on first-generation, college-bound, and low-income students.
“I feel like just the experience of working with the youth is amazing, and we're able to become mentors, impact them, and tell them our stories, because a lot of them will resonate with our stories, especially if they come from the same low-income background.”