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CSUF President Milton A. Gordon, right, Robert L. Palmer, vice president for student affairs, left, and Ronald V. Davis, founder and supporter of the Guardian Scholars program, congratulate Nicole “Nikki” Muth on her upcoming graduation. Muth and nine other students in the program for former foster youth will graduate this May. Photo by Karen Tapia

Giving Back

Guardian Scholar Graduate Advocates for Social Justice

May 21, 2010
Updated June 8, 2010

During her college years at Cal State Fullerton, graduating senior Nicole “Nikki” Muth was compelled to give back to her community.

It may sound cliché to most. But for Muth, who grew up without her biological parents, wanted to help others since so many had helped her throughout her life as a foster youth.

“My community has given so much to me. They’ve fed me, clothed me, housed me … I felt like I needed to give back,” said Muth, who is among this year’s graduating Guardian Scholars, a university program that financially assists former foster youth in attaining a college education.

Nicole “Nikki” Muth is among this year’s graduating class of Guardian Scholars. Photo by Karen Tapia

The Fullerton resident completed her bachelor's degree in psychology and women’s studies, with a minor in sociology. She was named the women’s studies “Outstanding Graduating Senior” and she spoke at the department’s May 22 commencement celebration.

Muth’s mother passed away when she was a baby; her father, when she was 12. At the age of 6, Muth and her older brother went to live with a paternal aunt, her husband and their three children in Modesto. Her new family gave her plenty of love and care, but Muth didn’t adjust well and became a troubled teen.

In high school, she turned her life around, focused on her studies and got good grades to open the possibility of attending college.

Her foster father encouraged her to attain higher education. “He’d tell me, “education is the way out.’ He was, and still is, a huge support system for me. He never allowed any of us to slack off in school. He’s my hero,” she said.

But paying for college was a worry. “I would visit my high school counselor on a weekly basis in tears, crying and asking her, ‘how am I going to go to college?’”

Guardian Scholar Nicole “Nikki” Muth gives a tearful speech during the May banquet, in which this year’s 10 graduating scholars were recognized for their college achievements. Photo by Karen Tapia

When Muth was admitted to Cal State Fullerton and accepted into the Guardian Scholars program, it was a turning point in her life.

The program helped Muth achieve her higher education goals, and her college experience gave her the opportunity to get involved in community service and activism, she said.

“Guardian Scholars is such a supportive community — the students, staff, faculty and donors. The program provided me a safe haven and that community is absolutely priceless,” she said.

“The program helped me to build my confidence and gave me the opportunity to explore who I am.”

Part of who she has become, Muth said, is being an advocate for change. She became involved with the university’s Volunteer & Service Center and other community activities, serving nearly 1,000 hours volunteering for different activities, including hunger, homelessness and social justice.

“Being involved in the Volunteer & Service Center taught me to stand up for what I believe in,” said Muth, who plans to seek work dealing with community and environmental issues. Her long-term goal is to own an organic farm.

She credits Amy Mattern, the center’s coordinator, for helping her find her “voice” and sense of self to become a more socially responsible person.

“Amy is a truly unique and special person. She is incredibly supportive toward all her students and pushes each one to grow not only as a student, but also as a compassionate human being. She has been my rock and my mentor. I can literally rely on her for anything.”

This semester, Muth served as a project director of the center’s Students Advocating Civic Transformation, the organizer of the Social Justice Summit on campus. Students ACT promotes civic engagement, social responsibility, and increased support and leadership development for student activists.

Media Contacts:

Grace Johnson, Guardian Scholars, 657-278-5493 or
Amy Mattern, Volunteer & Service Center, 657-278-3504 or
Debra Cano Ramos, Public Affairs, 657-278-4027; 657-278-2414 or

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