First Bovard Scholars cohort to graduate from USC

Students gathered posed outside a big banner with the New North residential hall logo.
The first Bovard Scholars who chose to attend USC continued to support one another and reconnected at monthly alumni luncheons, said Cheyenne Chrisp, a senior majoring in environmental studies. (Photo courtesy of Chelsea Bradley)

The prospect of going to college had always been rather blurry for Chelsea Bradley. Growing up, she considered college the “ultimate goal,” but coming from a low-income family, she knew she would have to bear the cost of tuition herself. After becoming the first in her family — and in her high school — to attend a four-year university, Bradley will graduate from USC in May alongside her peers in the Bovard Scholars’ first cohort. 

Despite her fervor to continue her education, Bradley didn’t have access to the resources and knowledge she’d need when applying to college — Her high school counselor was unfamiliar with the Common Application and her relatives had minimal knowledge of fee waivers and financial aid documentation. 

Bradley, now a senior majoring in psychology, considers herself “lucky” to have heard from a friend that USC launched Bovard Scholars, a college preparatory program for students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. Accepted as part of the program’s first cohort the summer before her senior year of high school, she gained “invaluable” insight into the college application process and prepared for the transition to college. A soon-to-be college graduate, Bradley said she’s grateful for the opportunities the program opened up for her.

“It feels surreal … The program saw something in us, and we do have that something in us,” Bradley said. “The fact that I’m about to get a degree from [USC] is insane to me, especially since any degree would have made my family proud, but that it’s a USC degree is definitely impressive.”

Bovard Scholars is a year-long program with a three-week residential experience at USC that gives low-income, high-achieving high school juniors and seniors a taste of college life, supports them in exploring their academic interests, readies them for testing and helps them navigate scholarships and financial aid applications.

“Our program integrates selective college advising with in-depth career exploration in order to empower our scholars to find the college and career pathway that positions them for future success and feels like the best fit for them,” Bovard Scholars Program Director Lisa Mataczynski said. 

Since its inception in 2017, when the program welcomed 49 students, Bovard Scholars has expanded to accept groups of approximately 120 students each year. Of the program’s 383 alumni, 78 matriculated at USC. 

Mataczynski said she enjoys seeing Bovard Scholars alumni giving back to the program beyond their formal time in it, such as by serving as Resident Assistants for the summer intensive experience, providing mentorship to new scholars and working in the program’s main office. The first cohort is “significant,” Matazcynski said, and especially “meaningful” to her because of the extent to which the group shaped the program for years to come. 

“We administered a number of surveys to them, and I also spent a lot of evenings at dinner or sitting in the residence hall common areas with them chatting to find out what they wanted out of the experience, what was going well, what wasn’t and talking about their hopes for the future,” Mataczynski said.

While students in the cohort are scattered across a number of different colleges nationwide, Mataczynski said they’re still a “tight- knit group.” To see the first set of students graduating is “exciting,” she said.

“Our scholars have worked so hard through college and then for years prior to that, so to see them put in the hard work and pursue their passions is really inspiring,” Mataczynski said. 

Another student in the program’s first cohort was Edgar Guadalupe Sanchez, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, who knew college was for him since elementary school. During a project in the second grade, Sanchez declared he would attend UCLA and study film. Beyond opening his eyes to the financial possibility of attending a four-year school, Bovard Scholars made Sanchez feel as though USC was “investing” in him, which drove his decision to become a Trojan.

“The most valuable thing I found out with the program was realizing that USC was the school for me,” Sanchez said. “I knew that I would feel safe and comfortable at USC.”

Coming from an underrepresented background and as the first to graduate college on his dad’s side of the family, Sanchez said he feels privileged to accomplish what others from his community haven’t had the chance to.

“I’m very proud of myself,” Sanchez said. “I really have gone really far and all of this just demonstrates to me that I could just really do anything … and I’m only going to get further.”

After he graduates, Sanchez plans to connect with his creative side and find ways to combine engineering and fashion for greater sustainability. 

“I just want to innovate to innovate, and create to create — whatever happens out of that happens,” Sanchez said. “I’m looking forward to anything.”

For the program’s first cohort, the Bovard Scholars experience did not stop once they matriculated to college. Students from the cohort that enrolled at USC meet up regularly at monthly luncheons and continue to support and motivate each other, said Cheyenne Chrisp, a senior majoring in environmental studies who attended the program.

“It’s kind of like a little family,” Chrisp said. “Whenever we run into each other, it’s like, ‘Ah, you knew me back then. We go way back.’ That’s what it feels like. When I see someone from [Bovard Scholars], it’s just a breath of fresh air.”

Through her studies at USC, Chrisp discovered a passion for sound healing and mindfulness, which she hopes to pursue after turning her tassel. The “most beautiful” parts of her experience at the University, she said, are the connections she made with professors who guided and inspired her and the resilience she found in herself.

“I just think [graduating is] definitely a reflection of my discipline and my hard work and my thirst to always continue to learn,” Chrisp said. “I made a promise to myself … I am going to do whatever it takes, I’m going to go through all of these hoops, obstacles to get there.”

As she walks up to the porch step of the momentous milestone that is college graduation, Bradley will see something that she’s “thought about since middle school” come to fruition. Her accomplishments, she said, are a testament to Bovard Scholars’ value and the impact it had on her and other members of the program’s first cohort. 

“We’re fighting on — being at USC — because we all fought through incredible challenges,” Bradley said. “We’re thriving and we’re getting our degrees and it proves that the Bovard Scholars program is worth it because we’re the first people to finish officially and we’re a success.”