California State University, Dominguez Hills President Willie J. Hagan was honored with the Millennium Momentum Foundation (MMF) 2013 Ambassador of Education Award, and three students from the university were recognized with the foundation’s Best and Brightest Scholarship during the nonprofit’s 11th Annual Opening Doors Awards Gala at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Dec. 6.
The Ambassador of Education award is presented to an institution of higher education or an individual in higher education who has demonstrated a significant commitment to creating and sustaining avenues for civic engagement and community reinvestment among a new generation. Since becoming CSU Dominguez Hills’ interim president in June 2012 and its permanent president in May 2013, Hagan has refocused and reinvigorated campus-wide efforts on improving student academic success, which includes opportunities for students to gain real-world experiences through internships and encouraging student involvement in their communities.
“This award is about bridging the gap between the community and the educational institution and there’s no way a president does that on his own. He bridges the gap by what the faculty do, by what the students do, what our alums do, our supporters, our donors, and our staff,” Hagan said in his acceptance speech.
Hagan went on to relate a “40-second story” of the university’s history—from being established in 1960 in Palos Verdes, to its relocation to the City of Carson shortly after the 1965 Watts riots—to illustrate why receiving the award is particularly meaningful.
“[The] riots said that we have a community in crisis. … [W]hat did [government officials] reach for to resolve that crisis? They reached for a university. They reached for Dominguez Hills. They were looking for a catalyst of change,” Hagan remarked. “And our whole existence as a university is based on the transformative power of higher education. It’s proven to transform individuals; you’ve seen that in the students who’ve walked across the stage. And it’s been proven effective in transforming the community. So I accept this award on behalf of our university, our faculty, our staff, and our donors, because believe me, the kind of change that we want to have happen, based upon education in this country, requires all of us.”
CSU Dominguez Hills has been a long-time partner of the foundation, and a number of its students have been beneficiaries of its Best and Brightest Scholarship. The university is also a prior recipient of the Ambassador of Education Award, having received it in 2006. Joseph Wen, dean of the College of Business Administration and Public Policy sits on MMF’s Board of Directors, as does CSU Dominguez Hills alumni Cedric Hicks, Sr. (Class of ’99, M.A., behavioral science) and Del Huff, vice chair of the CSU Dominguez Hills Foundation, serves on the organization’s Advisory Board. Hicks, who is City of Carson Parks and Recreation superintendent and is a CSU Dominguez Hills Alumni Advisory Council member, volunteered with MMF before becoming a member of its board in 2012.
“I’ve been working with [the founder of Millennium Momentum Foundation Jason Seward] hand-in-hand and making sure we get enough scholars and enough finances to make the program operational and working for the community as a whole,” Hicks said. “It’s a good pipeline for the university being exposed to young people who might never go on a campus otherwise.”
This year, among 18 students from universities and colleges across Southern California, including three CSU Dominguez Hills students, were recognized on stage during the gala event with a $3,000 Best and Brightest Scholarship. The CSU Dominguez Hills students were Nicole Harris, a junior majoring in criminal justice administration, and Master of Social Work students Vanessa Alvarez and Yaneli Ramirez (Class of ’11, B.A., human services).
As scholars they are able to participate in the education, mentoring, and leadership development training that MMF has provided to a diverse pool of students and young professionals entering public service-related fields since its creation in 2002. The program serves as a resource bridge between colleges, universities and industry.
“I did a little research on the Millennium Momentum Foundation and I found out that it was definitely something I wanted to take advantage of,” said Ramirez, who is a first generation college graduate. “Beating the odds, being a minority and receiving a higher education, this is an opportunity to complete my higher education.”
Harris, a first generation college student as well, shared on stage details of being homeless during her first semester as a freshman at Grossmont College in San Diego, the city where she was born and raised, before transferring to CSU Dominguez Hills in 2013, as a testimonial to the impact such opportunities as MMF have on student success.
“I share my story as proof that setbacks are only temporary and there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. A part of the light at the end of my tunnel is the Millennium Momentum Foundation,” said Harris, who is interested in a career in law and public policy. “This program means many things to me. It’s opportunities, hopes and my own personal prosperity. I crave success. I believe in setting reachable goals, achieving them, and then setting even harder goals. The resources, strategies and tools I’ve received from the Millennium Momentum Foundation have been indispensible.”
In an interview, Alvarez, who is the vice president of the graduate association of social work at CSU Dominguez Hills (Ramirez is a member), explained that the MMF Leadership Development Institute offers monthly workshops covering communication skills, time management, leadership and goal setting as well as networking activities.
Harris added, “The whole foundation in general is very different from other scholarships, … [It] is really interactive. You actually meet who’s giving you the scholarship and you learn way more about the foundation. It really shows that they care. It’s way more intimate.”
The scholarship is also a point of pride for the students.
“I was extremely happy when I found out that I was a recipient of the Millennium Momentum Foundation scholarship,” Alvarez said. “I was even more happy when I told my parents and they were extremely happy and proud of me.”
For more information on the Millennium Momentum Foundation, visit www.millennium-momentum.org.