Sequoia Thompson

Student Success Indicator
Expanding access to financial aid and accounting for the FULL cost of college is imperative, as affordability is the greatest barrier to college access. On top of their academics, students must contend with the rising cost of rent, school supplies, transportation, and more. California can be a leader for college access and student success by simplifying state financial aid.

Having graduated high school over 20 years ago, Sequoia Thompson recalled her journey to college as taking a rocky start. Though she had a loving, supportive family, she shared that her neighborhood environment was unsupportive and did not encourage her to go to college. 

“My mom didn’t want me going to school in the neighborhood we lived in, so I lived back and forth between my grandparent’s house and my mom’s house. I remember being in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program in junior high, the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, attending college tours, and I knew I enjoyed learning. I was a bright student. But economic challenges as well as mental health issues stifled me from watering that potential. I did not have a healthy concept of self-efficacy to believe I was college material,” Sequoia shared.

Still, she understood the transformative power of a college degree, but it would be a while for her to realize those dreams amid economic challenges she was facing at the time.

“College was just a word – a word that consistently got thrown around as the “next step”. But who was going to pay for this ‘college’? Where would I live? Dorms? And who was going to pay for those?”

Flash forward to 2018, an opportunity presented itself: after a job-related injury, Sequoia used her spare time to enroll at Pasadena City College. After the many bureaucratic meetings with counselors, financial aid officers, and admissions staff, she realized just how challenging it would be for her to pursue higher education as a nontraditional student. Ultimately, she sacrificed the little financial security she had from her job to become a full-time student. 

“I quit my job, cashed out my pension and 401K, and I was HUNGRY. I joined every club, program, honors organization that I had time to participate in. I began tutoring and mentoring, became a psychology Teacher’s Assistant, and worked in the Transfer Center. I found my classes, maintained a 4.0 GPA, transferred to UCLA in 2016 and graduated in 2018.”

Within her 4.5 years as a student, she reached more than just her potential, but also found a community that embraced and supported her – a complete 180 from where she had grown up as a child with only dreams of going to college. 

“I found a community, faculty, and staff who looked like me and came from similar backgrounds. For those who did not have a similar background, their equity mindset respected the challenges marginalized communities faced. With this village I was a part of, I was finally able to water my academic potential.” 

Sequoia now asks legislative officials to understand that offering aid and acknowledging basic needs insecurity is just the beginning. “Show students HOW to get the aid. Tell students WHAT different types of aid are available to students. Compassionately understand the effects of poverty, then show students how they can excel THROUGH it!”

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