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Alumni Bridge the Gap Through City Year Service

September 21, 2015

The concept of taking a “gap year” is gaining steam in the U.S. Typically done between high school and college, these sabbaticals can also occur in the space between graduating college and entering the workforce or beginning graduate school. For many, the transition between phases of life is a mental and physical break filled with travel and life experiences.

Rebekah Contreras found herself entering one of those phases as she concluded her studies at UC Merced this past spring, but she wanted more than an extended vacation.

I was graduating in May and still unsure of my next step,” the 23-year-old management major said. “I wanted to start my own business but had no capital; my parents wanted me to explore teaching by becoming a substitute.”

She found the answer in City Year, a division of AmeriCorps that works in impoverished communities to bridge the gap between what students need to succeed in academics and what their schools can provide. She discovered the program through the UC Merced’s Center for Career and Professional Advancement.

After transferring to UC Merced from Merced College, Contreras privately tutored community college students and worked for a tutoring company that supported K-12 students. The idea of spending a year tutoring inner-city students appealed to Contreras because it offered hands-on experience and an inside look in public education.

City Year’s goal is to increase graduation rates and change lives,” Contreras said. “I can’t think of a better way to spend the next year.”

Contreras isn’t alone. This year, nine UC Merced alumni have accepted City Year assignments in San Jose/Silicon Valley, Sacramento and Los Angeles – the most ever.

Class of 2009 alumna Celina Chun was the first person from UC Merced to participate in the program. She tutored San Jose-area students in math and literacy during the school day and provided academic support for sixth-graders and enrichment activities for middle-school students after school. The psychology major liked it so much that she stayed on for a second year to lead math initiatives and train junior corps members.

A San Jose native raised in Hawaii, Chun embraced the idea of returning to her roots.

I found my passion in closing the achievement gap for our youth and developed a love for East Side San Jose,” she said. “I attended my previous students’ high school graduations this year, and it was a feeling like none other to see them walk across the stage.”

Chun’s City Year service confirmed her career path. Today, she’s a volunteer coordinator for a nonprofit counseling center and credits her time with City Year for helping to align her career and social circle with core values developed through her experience.City Year San Jose team

Contreras, who is also assigned to San Jose/Silicon Valley, is optimistic about the doors that City Year may open but is equally content to just enjoy the ride.

Between the monthly stipend during the program and the loan forgiveness when I’m done, I think it’s a valuable experience no matter what the future holds,” she said. “It’s a chance do a new thing in a new place. It’s a win-win.”

Brenda Ortiz

Senior Public Information Representative

Office: (209) 228-4203

Mobile: (209) 628-8263