11/01/2012 03:03 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Why Invest in Youth? One Scholar's Story

Last time, I wrote about our general approach to developing careers and retaining students at the Magic Johnson Foundation. So now, I'll begin a series of posts covering specific examples of how we work with our scholars and why investing in youth can help close the opportunity and educational gaps in our country.

First, we'll highlight an amazing young man from Southern California, Eric Gutierrez. Eric comes from South Gate, a small city with 94 percent Latino population, and 18 percent of residents living below the poverty line. Eric arrived at our program in 2010 from a Huntington Park charter school with a high GPA and community service experience. Matriculating to UC Santa Cruz, he struggled to transition his early academic success to the college level, achieving a GPA far below his standard.

We worked with Eric, like all our scholars, through a 1:1 counseling model. In a Skype session we held with Eric in the early spring quarter of his freshmen year, he pledged his commitment to graduate with a high GPA. "I was not doing so well in the beginning of my freshman year," Eric explains, "but thanks to the scholarship program and leadership conference, I am even more motivated to improve."

Currently pursuing a double major in History alongside a combined major in Latino Studies and Global Economics, Eric envisions working in the fields of Urban Planning or Public Policy. He will also study abroad this spring 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.

Heading in the right direction with his grades now firmly under control, we turned to career development for Eric. We know the career planning and development process is a marathon, not a sprint. Hard lessons learned early on lead to progress when the next opportunities present themselves. Eric's story provides a wonderful example so of the learning process, which required great determination and humility before leading to triumph.

"A year ago, I thought finding an internship would be a walk in the park," Eric explains of the search process, which he waited until May to start pursuing. After missing out on securing an internship that summer due to his delay in outreach, Eric learned how important it is to prepare for the process in advance. The next year, he started the internship search months before summer and landed an internship at Wells Fargo.

"While the process was at times frustrating, I learned a lot from each interview. I learned to stay motivated despite the rejection, and that as one door closes another one opens. Sure enough, Wells Fargo opened their doors for me as a summer intern."

Eric performed at a very high level during his summer at Wells Fargo's Community Relations Group in Southern California. Shelley Wax, who recruited Eric to Wells Fargo, described him an extraordinary young man. "He soaks up information like a sponge, expresses himself well, takes initiative, demonstrates maturity, has an incredibly positive attitude, is very insightful and very respectful to everyone," Shelley says. "In short, Eric is stellar representation of the scholars empowered by the Magic Johnson Foundation."

With Eric, and all our scholars, what a wonderful journey it is! Below are some key tenets we apply in counseling students:

Adjust to college. Get used to being away from home and the heightened academic expectations.

Explore your academic options. Dream big, take calculated risks and try new things out.

Prepare for your first internship. Understand the timing and nature of internship prospecting, prepare the necessary tools such as resumes, portfolios, cover letters, and work your network.

Eric took two years to achieve proficiency in the three critical steps outlined above. Some students come in more advanced, while some of our scholars need all four or five years of undergraduate studies and working with our office to achieve mastery.

A key element of our Taylor Michaels Scholarship Program is the summer leadership conference, where the scholars receive laptops, scholarships, individual mentors and hear from a network of business leaders, including Magic Johnson himself. We establish a GPA requirement to attend, which empowers scholars to keep their grades up during the academic year. They are able to hear from inspirational speakers who encourage them to continue their education and network with other scholars and meet people going through similar problems in college.

We aim to provide scholars like Eric with all the resources they need to succeed. Ultimately, through programs that offer this support to young people, we can help them reach their full potential to become leaders within their own community.