As a first-generation college student at Cerritos College, Axel Fuentes Gutierrez ’20 knew about USC, but never considered it an option.
“I only knew of USC as a school that I would never be able to go to,” Gutierrez said. “I knew it was a private school and an expensive school, so I never bothered to look into it. I didn’t have any understanding of how to transfer.”
Fortunately, Gutierrez discovered the Leventhal Leadership Program (LLP), a seminar program that takes an individualized approach to helping first-generation students make the transition from community college to USC.
“I chose Leventhal because of the fact that faculty are really there to make sure that you grow and, as a transfer student, that you also become integrated in the student body.”--Axel Fuentes Gutierrez ’20
“To say the least, the program was life changing,” said Gutierrez, a native of Long Beach, Calif., who is now a junior at USC Leventhal.
“Alumni from Cerritos College and Leventhal would come to campus and say, ‘I’m here to tell you that I believe in you,’” Gutierrez said. “I think especially for students that are underrepresented or don’t have a strong support system, it is critical to have people who you can turn to. Thanks to the program I was informed about USC. It would not have been a wise choice to overlook USC.”
Associate Director of Undergraduate Advising Arthur Alba ’06 started the program informally 12 years ago with Steve Arias ’06, another alumnus of both Cerritos and Leventhal, and Peter Moloney, professor of accounting and finance at Cerritos College. The role officially came under Alba’s responsibilities at Leventhal last year.
Gutierrez said that Alba, his key advisor, has played a major role in his Leventhal experience, starting long before he ever stepped on campus. “A year before I transferred to USC, I used to email him and call him and say, ‘I just applied. Wish me luck!’ And when I got my acceptance letter, I asked him what to expect. He was there, helping me out the whole way, and even now he continues to be one of the key influential people in my success.”
‘A Big Family’
Gutierrez was inclined to study accounting, but when he learned about Leventhal, his decision was made.
“I chose Leventhal because of the fact that faculty are really there to make sure that you grow and, as a transfer student, that you also become integrated in the student body.”
Now that he’s on campus, Gutierrez has found the community as inviting as he’d hoped. “All my classes are small, and it feels like a big family. Pretty much everyone knows each other and everybody is there for you, even during stressful times, when everybody’s going into midterms. It almost feels as if you’re part of something bigger than yourself.”
What has meant the most to him is the accessibility of the faculty and Dean William W. Holder. “I’ve met with the dean over the past two semesters to just talk to him about some of my interests, but also to ask him for advice,” Gutierrez said. “The fact that the dean is willing to meet with a student within a week’s notice speaks volumes about the school.”
When Gutierrez arrived on campus, he found there was no active ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals for America) chapter. “A lot of transfer students were looking for a way to connect. So we decided to take charge,” he said.
In coordination with the dean and faculty, they were able to revive USC’s chapter. Within a few months, the organization, of which he is co-president, had 50 members and launched four or five events. The members also volunteered to talk to community college students in the Leventhal Leadership Program.
“It’s really rewarding,” Gutierrez said. “It goes back to my experience with LLP. I think it is my way of giving back for what was given to me. In addition, there is something in me that likes to be a part of something greater than myself, and being a part of this program fills that need.”