Each year, more than 23,000 people leave the country’s reception system, of which less than 3% will obtain a university degree in their lifetime. This is one of four profiles celebrating students in the Promoting Achievement Through Hope (PATH) program, each of whom is turning that narrative on its head with the support of staff and their peers. All profiles are accessible in our introductory article.
Rodaisha James keeps the photo close.
He captures a moment in time with his mother, sharing Rodaisha’s smile, wearing a comfortable maternity outfit and
a half-up, half-down hairstyle with side bangs reminiscent of the mid to late 1990s. Through the photo, Rodaisha hears her mother’s voice and she feels a mix of emotions: envy, admiration and curiosity combined to serenity and acceptance.
Every glimpse of the photo motivates Rodaisha to stay true to her dream of graduating and building a bright future for herself.
“College has been in the works with me since middle school,” Rodaisha said. “My mother instilled in my younger sister and me that education was key.”
This month, the first-generation student will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Asian studies and business administration, with a major in project management. Earning not one but two college degrees may be the best way, she said, to honor her mother’s wishes.
Having already lost her father at the age of 7, Rodaisha was a 15-year-old high school student when her mother passed away. Suddenly orphaned, her grandparents and one of her aunts became the legal guardians of her and her sister.
Due to the conservatorship status, Rodaisha qualified for College Track, a targeted program to help underserved young people in the Bay Area transition from junior high school to earning their undergraduate degree. Providing comprehensive academic, financial, and social-emotional programming, the program strives to remove barriers to college completion.
Rodaisha was introduced to higher education programs throughout the state with services for incoming students under guardianship. While awaiting word of admissions at UC Berkeley, she honed in on Chico State — touring the campus and meeting with PATH Fellows, including program coordinator Marina Lomeli.
“I felt a sense of belonging and comfort during my visit, so the moment I heard about Berkeley, Chico State ticked all the boxes and PATH Scholars was the icing on the cake,” said Rodaisha.
Lomeli helped ease Rodaisha’s transition by introducing on-campus resources and providing reminders about housing, financial aid, and intent-to-enroll dates and deadlines. Always available for encouragement, she was also a support system and confidant, exactly the kind of relationship Rodaisha needed to get into college.
“A lot of students have access to this type of support because their parents are active in their lives. I didn’t have my parents, so Marina’s mentorship means everything to me,” she said. “She’s family.”
Rodaisha first started in the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Construction Management, but struggled in her STEM classes. However, she thrived in her business minor and decided to change direction.
She began to flourish academically and became more involved with student organizations like Just Unity Sistas, the Association for Women in Business, and First Generation and Proud, while serving in leadership positions for the chapter of Chico State from the National Society of Black Engineers for three years.
Additionally, the constant support of PATH scholars has opened the door for her to pursue other goals, such as studying abroad. After a pandemic-shortened 2019-2020 academic year at Shanghai University in which she was forced to return to Chico to complete her classes virtually, Rodaisha spent the fall of 2021 at Shanghai State University. Alabama in a special program offering immersive experiences at historically black colleges and universities. Together, she said these experiences gave her a broader perspective of her place in the world.
“I try to remember the ways we connect rather than the ways we don’t – to be a global citizen for me is to remember my impact and to remember the collective, the world,” she said. “I’m not just an American citizen. I am also a citizen of the world and I feel compelled to do my part to help improve it one interaction at a time, starting with my own inner work.
Once the pandemic hit, Rodaisha retired from her many activities to take care of herself. She continued to use the WellCat Counseling Center, which she had been using since her first year, and entered her second year in a female student welfare group.
“I invested more time in building my professional network, mentoring and maintaining my mental health,” she said.
Rodaisha has already secured a full-time job after graduating as a project manager at ServiceNow, a Santa Clara-based software company. While she’s eager to learn about technology and its innovative culture, she also knows she’s paving the way for other African American women in a traditionally male-dominated space.
“I experienced self-doubt and impostor syndrome all the time during college, but I’m innovating and embarking on uncharted territory,” she said. “It hasn’t been easy, but it has been very rewarding.”
Before wrapping up a few final courses this academic year, she participated in the 2021 graduation ceremonies.
“I kind of lost my breath thinking, ‘Wow, this is happening.’ Within seconds, I went from extreme happiness to tears. All the emotions hit at once,” she said. “I was so happy, but I also felt sadness. It hurts realizing that I wasn’t celebrating with my parents. Having my sister, step-dad, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents to celebrate made me feel really special.
As she realizes what her mother always hoped for her, she couldn’t be more proud.“
I think she would be so moved by her baby girl, her firstborn,” she said. “She was encouraging me to take the time to honor myself and my accomplishments, to realize what it took to get me here, to notice the effort I’ve put in – I think she would happy with the woman who would stand before her.”
The odds are against them. Show PATH Scholars that you believe in their educational dreams and ensure they have the resources to achieve them by donating today to www.csuchico.edu/fosteryouth.