Diana Felix & Terrence Pratt

Paying it Forward

Staff members launch a scholarship program for studentsDiana Felix and Terrence Pratt

Diana Felix and Terrence Pratt personify the expression “paying it forward.”

While they didn’t know each other at the time, they were both struggling low-income, first-generation students at Mt. San Antonio College. Today, they are popular staff members in the Student Services Division helping students each day. Felix, 33, is coordinator of the Achieving in College, Ensuring Success (ACES) program, which helps students overcome class, social, academic, and cultural barriers to higher education. Pratt, 31, is a financial aid specialist who leads financial literacy workshops and serves as a mentor to African-American students

The two successfully collaborated on a number of projects and decided to go above and beyond, founding the “Help Me, Help You” scholarship, benefitting low-income, first-generation college students at Mt. SAC.

“This scholarship is so special because it’s alumni driven,” Felix says. “It was just started by two alumni who felt strongly about this certain population and wanted to help out.” The $500 scholarship was awarded for the first time this year during the annual scholarship ceremony. Jill Dolan, director of Public Affairs, spoke with Felix and Pratt about their commitment to giving back.

Jill Dolan: What motivated you to establish the “Help Me, Help You Scholarship”?

Diana Felix:  Two years ago, one of our students was on the verge of transferring to UCLA and he said, “I want to donate to the ACES program because you guys believed in me when no one else did. I want to give back.” This was a student who was low income, received financial aid, and a recovering drug addict. Transferring was something he never thought he would be able to achieve. I remember feeling very inspired by him and shared that with Terrence.

Terrence Pratt: It solidified what we were already feeling. We wanted to be a catalyst and start a viral way for students to help out other students once they got to a point they could give back. When it’s on their own, they have that passion inside because of the way they were helped out.

JD: How did you develop the scholarship?

DF:  We got really personal with that. We wanted it to be a reflection of who we once were: Low income and first generation with that aspiration to transfer one day. We’re thankful that we’re now in the position in our careers that we are making money and can help. It’s such a great feeling.

TP: While attending Mt. SAC, we came across different resources that led to scholarships we wouldn’t have otherwise known about and that helped tremendously with our educational goals.

JD: How does a scholarship like this make a difference in a student’s life?

DF: When you are on the verge of transferring, it’s a very scary process in itself, especially when you’re a first-generation college student. You can’t turn to mom and dad and say, “What’s next? What am I going to experience next?” You’re the first one to embark on that journey and the scariest part about that is paying for your education.  Being that I work with transfer students, the price tag is always a part of the decision-making process for students as to where they are going to go. I think this scholarship can alleviate that worry.

JD: What has been the response to your creation of the scholarship?

TP:  Our peers tell us that they never thought about having a scholarship and they either want to help with this one or create their own. It’s having an effect where others are getting involved that otherwise weren’t thinking of doing it.

JD: The scholarship is now $500 to one student each year. What are your goals for it?

TP: We want to grow it to $5,000 to 10 students each year. We hope to get other alumni to contribute to the cause. I would say to them, if you have ever been helped in a way that really impacted you, maybe one day you can pay it forward.

DF: Anything helps, even a scholarship for $100.  It’s life changing for students to receive help with the current situation that they are facing. Every bit helps.