Guardian scholars excel

by Diana Crofts-Pelayo

Before attending San Diego State, James D. Hake, a 19-year-old native from Mount Shasta, had not planned a future because he lived day-to-day in survival mode. A violent home life with his biological parents caused him to run away and seek refuge with his friends and extended family.

Hake, now a recreation and tourism management sophomore, was given a lot of responsibility as a young child. He would work on his parents’ property tending the land and caring for the animals.

He avoided going home by becoming heavily involved in school and participating in outdoor sports.

Hake applied to SDSU, but was denied. However, after insistently working with Equal Opportunity Program representatives, he was eventually accepted into SDSU through the Guardian Scholars Program.

This program provides comprehensive support to assist students who are wards of the court, under legal guardianship or unaccompanied homeless youth. It also gives participants year-round room and board and academic mentoring.

As a ward of the court, he left his family and was placed in the guardianship of the Hake family, who eventually became his adoptive parents.

“I’ve lost a lot of family relationships through running away, but I wouldn’t be where I’m at if I didn’t,” he said. “Sometimes you have to sacrifice some things you love.”

Recently, the Guardian Scholars Program received $4 million because of the efforts of The Campaign for SDSU, which is the first university-wide fundraising campaign.

Hake said he appreciates donors supporting the program because it gives opportunities to individuals who have the odds against them.

“I literally wouldn’t be here, they got me into college and they’ve given me so much. All the people I’ve met, all the connections I’ve made,” Hake said.

The additional money would allow more students to enter the program, hire more staff, provide more scholarships and give them opportunities to study abroad, he said. In order to accept more students, the program is lowering the GPA requirement from 3.0 to 2.5.

The Campaign for SDSU recently reached $300 million in fundraising with the help of 34,000 donors. Its overall goal is $500 million.

Director of Media Relations and New Media Greg Block said Guardian Scholars are incredible students.

“These are students who had extraordinary circumstances and pushed through that because they wanted to be here … they have been through things that not everybody can relate to and they persevered,” Block said.

According to the Guardian Scholars website, there are about 6,500 youth in the foster care system in San Diego County. Every year, 300 students leave the system when they turn 18.

There are more than 170 Guardian Scholars, a significant increase from only three years ago when the program began with 11 members.

Students, parents, faculty and staff, alumni and corporations donate money. SDSU President Elliot Hirshman said donors are not only investing in the future of students, but the community as a whole.

“We are very fortunate that our donors recognize the extraordinary abilities and dedication of our students, faculty and staff. They understand that an investment in our educational, research and community engagement programs benefits our students, our region and the broader society,” Hirshman said.

Block said the school is tapping into the 260,000 SDSU alumni, 60 percent of whom live in San Diego. Hirshman said every donation counts and every donation has an impact.

“Numerous small donations to a department or program accumulate to have a large impact, and supporters who make small donations today will often make larger donations in the future when they see the positive impact of their donation,” Hirshman said. “Each donation is an essential part of building a culture of philanthropy and growing our endowment so it can support the important work of our students, faculty and staff.”

The larger donations involve talking to prospective donors about the school, its recognizable programs and meeting with SDSU leaders to reinforce the school’s greatness.

Hirshman said the Guardian Scholars Program provides special opportunities to these students formerly in the foster care system.

“I have been fortunate to get to know a number of our Guardian Scholars over the last year,” he said. “They are talented, determined, optimistic young men and women who deserve our support and who, with this support, will make important contributions as future leaders.”

Hake said he’s encountered many obstacles in his life, but if he had not been pushed by the Hake family to succeed, it would have been even harder. Individuals should be persistent and hope for the best, he said.

“Don’t hold back because you don’t know what’s going to happen when you give your best, you could fail, failure is always an option, unfortunately it is, but you could succeed,” he said.

After he graduates from SDSU in 2014, Hake said he’s going to the University of Utah to get his master’s and doctorate. He eventually plans to own a ski resort.