When Raul Torres Jr. received an email informing him that he had landed a prestigious Russell L. Caldwell Neighborhood Exchange, he thought someone had made a mistake.
After all, the first-year mechanical engineering student hadn’t even applied for the award, which is awarded each year to two new USC students from high schools in the area. Winners receive mentorship and $ 3,000 per year for four years – money that can be used to fund books, computers and other school expenses.
“I thought they got the wrong person,” said Torres, a 2021 honors graduate and varsity athlete from Huntington Park High School. âI’m used to applying for scholarships, and it came out of nowhere. But I was so proud and honored when I found out it was real.
The same goes for Jose M. Zarate Diaz, a freshman biomedical engineering student who recently graduated as a Salvatorian from the Foshay Learning Center. A first-generation student with limited resources, Diaz said he appreciated the recognition and support. âMy family can’t afford college, so any financial help really helps me a lot. I really feel blessed.
Launched in 1967 by Russell L. Caldwell, human rights activist and USC history professor from 1945 to 1972, the Caldwell Fellowship has long supported talented neighborhood students who enroll at USC. To date, over 450 students have received Caldwell scholarships. (The university awarded more Caldwell scholarships before the advent of the USC Good Neighbors Campaign.) The Association of retired teachers, or RFA, has helped oversee and fund the program since Caldwell’s death in 1979.
âThe Caldwell Scholarship is really making a difference in [recipientsâ] life âsaid Karen koblitz, President of the Caldwell Scholars Program and former Head of Ceramics at USC Roski School of Art and Design from 2002 until his retirement in 2017. âIn addition to financial support, we help them deal with issues that arise during the year, whether academic or personal.
USC’s admissions office selects awardees based on their leadership abilities, academic excellence, and community service – qualities that Torres and Diaz possess in abundance. This year, said Kelsey K. Bradshaw Carroll, associate director of admissions, USC received 120 applications from potential students at the 10 eligible schools: Foshay, Huntington Park, Belmont, Crenshaw, Dorsey, Fremont, Jefferson, Los Angeles. , Manual Arts and Roosevelt High Schools.
“I want to give back”
For Torres, Huntington Park in eastern Los Angeles was the perfect place to grow up. The neighbors smiled whenever he passed them on the street and made him feel completely at home. When his Mexican immigrant parents opened a small business that rented tables and chairs, the community rallied around them, doing business through word of mouth.
Given his dedication to his neighborhood, Torres volunteered throughout high school on several beautification and other projects sponsored by Key Club International. He distributed toys to children during Christmas toy drives, planted trees in the community and participated in several cleanups. In the meantime, he took college football and tennis lessons, made college decathlons, and graduated third in his high school class.
Torres hopes to earn a progressive degree – a joint bachelor’s and master’s degree from USC Viterbi – in mechanical engineering. After graduating he said he would like to volunteer in his old neighborhood.
âI want to give back one way or another,â Torres said. âI really like Huntington Park. The people there have been so good to me.
A doctor at home
As a little boy, Diaz injured his head in a fall in a playground and began to have seizures. His concerns and those of his family disappeared when they met the exceptional doctors who treated him. Their compassion, kindness and empathy, along with their keen sense of medicine, helped Diaz to recover quickly.
This positive interaction inspired him to want to one day become a doctor.
âIt would be nice if we could help people and make them suffer less,â Diaz said. âThere will always be health issues that need to be addressed, and I believe the more people can help with these issues, the better.
As a 10th grade student at Foshay, Diaz volunteered in the optometry department of a Kaiser Permanente, answer appointment calls and maintain display cases for glasses and frames. Around the same time, he began taking health-related college courses at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, including anatomy, medical terminology, and healthcare ethics and law. Somehow, Diaz also found time in high school to co-write and co-direct short films, including âRootz,â which features several LA muralists talking about their art.
Unsurprisingly, Diaz – who received his second degree in a class of 170 – decided to study biomedical engineering at USC Viterbi. âTechnology occupies a big place in our lives and is constantly advancing and evolving,â he said. âI want to combine technology and healthcare because I think that’s the key to improving our health. “
Diaz said he’s not sure exactly what he wants to do in the future, although becoming a surgeon has some appeal. However, he is certain that he has chosen the right university.
âUSC has always been the school of my dreams,â he said, âso it just seems unreal to me that I’m really here.â