Graduating Guardian Scholars standing together.Caption: Graduating Guardian Scholars, from left, are Brenetta Wallace, Jorge Cardenas, Andrew Dunphy, Tiohn Harris, Frankee Estrella and Gina Duran Calandri. Not pictured is scholar Simon Oh. Photo by Karen TapiaDownload Photo

Former Foster Youth Realize Higher Education Goals

Graduating Guardian Scholars Recognized for College Achievements

Seven former foster youth will realize their higher education goals as they earn bachelor’s degrees this month from Cal State Fullerton.

These soon-to-be graduates are Guardian Scholars, part of an innovative and successful program started at the university in 1998 to help emancipated foster youth attain a college education, pursue careers and lead productive adult lives.

The graduating students were honored May 4 at the annual Guardian Scholars Recognition Banquet, attended by program alumni, university administrators, faculty and staff members, and community supporters.

“We are extremely grateful to all of our donors who have continued to provide financial support to fund former foster youth scholarships,” said CSUF President Milton A. Gordon. Their contributions, he noted, “are directly responsible for the success of these students.”

Former foster youth selected as Guardian Scholars receive year-round housing, financial aid, counseling, academic tutoring and support — all part of a comprehensive program leveraging the expertise and resources of private-, public- and independent-sector agencies.

The program has received national and state recognition as an outstanding model to assist and support emancipated foster youth in their pursuit of higher education.

At the banquet, Cal State Fullerton also recognized three alumni of the Guardian Scholars program for their accomplishments in pursuit of graduate degrees.

Adam Bateham of Fullerton is graduating with a master of arts in psychology, and Sarah Abedzadeh of Los Alamitos and Tarae Graves of Fullerton are each earning a master of social work at Cal State Fullerton.

Abedzadeh and Graves are recipients of the 2009 Dr. Robert Palmer Fellowship Award, named after the recently retired vice president for student affairs. Recipients receive $10,000 per year for two years to support their graduate education in social work or another helping profession.

Since the program’s inception, 72 former foster youth, including the 2011 graduates, have earned bachelor’s degrees. Additionally, 12 new students will be joining the Guardian Scholars Program this fall.

The 2011 graduating Guardian Scholars are:

  • Jorge Cardenas of Mission Viejo is earning a bachelor of arts in business administration with a concentration in accounting and has accepted a position as a financial analyst with an Orange County company.
  • Andrew Dunphy of Brea is completing a bachelor of arts in psychology with a minor in business administration. His career goal is to become an organizational psychologist.
  • Gina Duran Calandri of Garden Grove is graduating with a bachelor of arts in psychology. She has served as a peer mentor in the Guardian Scholars Program and for the Orangewood Children’s Foundation.
  • Frankee Estrella of Fullerton is earning a bachelor of arts in communicative disorders. She plans to pursue a nursing degree.
  •  Tiohn Harris of Los Angeles is completing a bachelor of arts in communications with a concentration in public relations. Her goal is to work in the fashion industry and one day own her own boutique.
  • Simon Oh of Fullerton is graduating with a bachelor of arts in communications with a concentration in public relations. He interned at the Orange County Transportation Authority and served as an advocacy director for the Public Relations Student Society of America;
  • Brenetta Wallace of Fullerton is earning a bachelor of science in human services. She served as peer mentor for the Orangewood Children’s Foundation and a 2011 representative on the Guardian Scholars Advisory Board. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in counseling and a doctorate in clinical psychology.

Their commencement ceremonies are May 21-22 on the Cal State Fullerton campus. The universitywide ceremony is at 8 a.m. both days on the athletics fields north of Titan Gym. College and departmental exercises and celebrations follow at approximately 10 a.m. at various locations on campus.

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Media Contacts:

Grace Johnson, Guardian Scholars, 657-278-5493 or

Debra Cano Ramos, Public Affairs, 657-278-4027; 657-278-2414 or


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