Pierce College Foundation inspires with grants, scholarships

graduation cap diploma isolated on a white background

Imagine you’re auditioning for a national commercial and you’re asked to read the line, “What can one person do?”

First, read the line as if you are completely discouraged.

Now try it again, this time believing you really can make a difference and all you’re asking is where to start.


That’s the way political science professor Denise Robb read the line when she stepped into the role of chair of the Foundation for Pierce College. Robb has volunteered long hours to strengthen the foundation, save the Pierce College farm, and raise money for scholarships to help community college students achieve their dreams.

“People don’t realize how big a difference financial help can make in the life of a community college student,” she said recently. “Out of the 29,000 we serve each year, only 14,000 of them are full-time. Of the full-time students, only 70 percent complete or transfer. Of the part-time students, more than half drop out. The main reason they give? Financial need. Textbook costs, tuition, additional expenses for classes.”

Last month, the foundation awarded $1,000 scholarships to 13 Pierce College students with inspiring stories and tough schedules, like Kelly Sharko, who’s studying to be a nurse while working full-time, and Jason Sturdivant, who grew up in poverty without a father at home and today is a U.S. Army veteran and the first member of his family to pursue an education.

“Forty-one percent of our students are the first in their family to attend college,” Robb said.

Andrea Amara is one of them. When her family endured tough times, she paid for her education by tutoring schoolchildren. The scholarship will help her reach her goal of a degree in computer science.

Another scholarship winner, business management student Barbara Lombrano, is a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War and was elected the first female commander of American Legion Post 502 in Moorpark.

Mary Anselmo and Noura Hervani each received scholarships funded by a $50,000 endowment from the Reseda Women’s Club. The checks were presented by longtime club member Evelyn Morris, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday. Ever since her own children were students at Pierce, Morris has been a passionate advocate for agriculture education and for the Pierce College farm.

Robb has been working to build support for permanently protecting the roughly 200-acre farm from the possibility of commercial or residential real estate development. She now has a stack of letters and statements from elected officials, faculty and staff unions, and local civic and business groups. They’re all backing her call for a study of preservation methods that would allow the college to use the farm land for education, but never again to sell or lease pieces of it for commercial purposes.

Unfortunately, most of the members of the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees, the people with the power to authorize that study, have not allowed Professor Robb into their offices to make her case.

“It’s proving far more difficult than I anticipated,” she said.

Don’t expect that to stop her. Recently Robb secured a $25,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation for the farm and renewed a $660,000 grant from Amgen for students and teachers to learn DNA sequencing. And she has recruited new board members for the Foundation to help raise more money for scholarships. “We read essays from 116 students,” Robb said, “It was almost impossible to whittle it down to 13.”

Scholarships went to chemistry major Linda Nguyen, architecture student Paul Macander, sociology students Brenda Lopez and Liliana Flores, science and engineering student Maria Benavides, business administration major Jasmine Boyle and philosophy major Katie Rogers, who worked from the age of 15 to help support her three siblings when her parents lost their business. Rogers put aside her dream of attending a major university after her father developed health problems and she was needed at home. She hopes one day to become an attorney.

“I know that a student from a low-income family statistically isn’t as successful when it comes to obtaining higher education,” Rogers wrote in her essay. “My goal is to beat the statistics.”

What can one person do?

Make a tax-deductible contribution to the Foundation for Pierce College, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills, Calif., 91371, or online at http://foundation.piercecollege.edu.

And ask the board of trustees why some of them won’t meet with Professor Robb about preserving the farm. Call board president Scott Svonkin at (213) 891-2044 or fax your thoughts to him at (213) 891-2035.