Arturo Lucatero recalls the day his world suddenly changed – when a session with his counselor at Tigard High School altered the direction of his life.
A recent emigrant from Mexico, Lucatero had long dreamed of working in the computer industry, specifically with Microsoft. The initial plan was to continue working at his fast food job, graduate from high school and attend community college part time before transferring to a four-year institution.
It was then that his counselor suggested he look into scholarships. “I’d never heard of George Fox at that point,” he says. “But I was told about this Act Six program they had, and I thought, ‘Why not apply?’ I had nothing to lose.”
Nothing to lose, yet so much to gain. Fast forward four years: Lucatero, a 2015 graduate of George Fox with a degree in computer science, works at Microsoft’s world headquarters in Redmond, Wash., as an identity program manager, fulfilling his lifelong ambition to work at one of the world’s most prodigious computer companies. “Who knows where I’d be today if not for George Fox and Act Six,” he says flatly. “I may have still been on the path to get here, but I wouldn’t have been nearly as far down the road.
“Act Six opened a whole new world of opportunity for me. Not only did it provide for me financially, it provided a support system that allowed my cohort members and me to succeed. It literally changed my life.”
Act Six: The Beginnings
It was for students like Lucatero – Portland-area youth, many of them from a multicultural background, identified as strong leaders – that the Act Six leadership and scholarship initiative was introduced at George Fox in the fall of 2007. Core to the program – created by the Northwest Leadership Foundation and conducted in partnership with the Portland Leadership Foundation, an affiliate of Young Life – was the development of students who would lead on campus and return as “agents of change” to their home communities. Those accepted into the program are provided with a full-need scholarship to cover all their tuition and housing costs – a commitment to which the university designated $909,965 in 2015-16, an average of $36,399 per student for 25 students.
The first group of Act Six scholars joined the university in 2007, setting the stage for a successful program that is now celebrating its 10th year.
Nine Act Six students joined the university that first fall, and eight of them went on to graduate – an 89 percent graduation rate that has remained remarkably consistent in the years since. Of the 69 students who have come through the program in the last decade, 60 have graduated or are currently enrolled (87 percent).
The impetus to start Act Six was twofold: Give students from under-resourced communities the opportunity to learn and lead, and diversify the George Fox campus, which, in the mid-2000s, had an ethnic minority population of about 10 percent.
“As believers, we’re called to understand and celebrate the diversity that God has created,” said Brad Lau, vice president of student life, shortly after the program’s introduction. “The kingdom of God encompasses all races. We would like our Christian environment to reflect that reality.”
A Current Student’s Perspective
As an Asian American, Rachel Nguyen has admittedly struggled with the stereotypes associated with her ethnicity – that Asians work harder, are more driven and earn good grades. For her, Act Six is more than a scholarship – it has helped her see herself in a new light.
“I find it to be a daily struggle of proving to others that I am more than what the Asian stereotype says about me,” says Nguyen, a biochemistry major who just completed her freshman year. “I am hardworking, not because I am Asian, but because I believe that I must wholeheartedly serve Christ in all that I do. I earn good grades, not because I am Asian, but because I believe the education I receive and the degree I am working toward is for my neighbors Jesus has called me to serve.
“Though my ethnicity has been a struggle for me, the Act Six mission – to educate diverse leaders to stand up to be voices for those who can’t speak up – has been a source of encouragement.”
Ultimately, Nguyen plans to become an ophthalmologist and work overseas in Vietnam, China or potentially with Doctors Without Borders. “I hope to put my Vietnamese- and Spanish-speaking skills to good use wherever I end up,” she says.
Making a Difference
Students like Nguyen are among a long line of Act Six Scholars who plan to use – or are using – their degree for ministry purposes and/or to better their own under-served communities. Recent graduates include Anna Vella (Robles) Magana, a social work alumna working as an immigration counselor at Lutheran Community Services Northwest, and Blake Shelley, an author and speaker who presents workshops as a disability advocate across the region.
Bailie Bowey, a 2015 graduate now interning with the Young Life-operated Washington Family Ranch in Central Oregon, doesn’t mince words: “If not for Act Six, I’m not sure I would have gone to college. Asking how Act Six has impacted my life is like asking how water affects the grass. It has helped me to grow. It came along, chose me, and told me from day one that I have a voice, a purpose, and a set of natural gifts and abilities that are brimming with the potential to generate change in the community.”
An Emphasis on Diversity
Today, George Fox’s ethnic minority population has more than tripled since the mid-2000s – to about 33 percent – and Act Six is just one of many reasons why. The university now annually recruits about 50 international students, mostly from China, resulting in approximately 120 international students on campus in a given year. George Fox also partners with South Central Scholars, a Los Angeles-based organization that equips high-achieving high school students from low-income families to attend college. The university provides a supplemental $10,000 scholarship, renewable all four years, to about 10 of these scholars annually.
Still other students take advantage of the Multicultural Leadership Scholarship, part of the school’s annual Scholarship Competition, to earn between $1,000 and $2,500 annually under the stipulation that awardees hold leadership positions on campus and attend monthly class cohort meetings.
Collectively, those in the Act Six, South Central Scholars and Multicultural Leadership programs are “Mosaic Scholars” – a metaphor for the diverse nature of students who embody the definition of the word “mosaic” (“a multi-colored decoration that forms a picture or pattern”). The university enrolled 86 Mosaic Scholars in 2015-16.
Today, George Fox’s ethnic minority population has more than tripled since the mid-2000s — to about 33 percent — and Act Six is just one of many reasons why.
“I talk a lot about intersectionality with our students – this idea of their socio-economics, their gender, all of that playing into who they are and how they experience diversity in their lives,” says Jenny Elsey, director of intercultural life. “So although race and ethnicity are my primary focus, I don’t think we can talk about those things in a void without those other subjects. The reason why I think diversity is important is because it’s foundationally tied to our theology and to our theological mandate.”
Taking it a step further, Elsey sees reconciliation as the ultimate byproduct of a more diverse campus. “I believe this idea of reconciliation is in the arc of God’s narrative,” she says. “You see in the stories again and again that he is consistently working to reconcile and redeem all things back to him. The world looks at diversity and it’s about power – the idea that ‘If you’ve been in power, and you’ve been oppressing me, then I need to take over you and take over power.’
“But it should be a different story for Christians. We are actually talking about this idea of creating a place where that need to fight for power doesn’t exist because we’re actively reconciling with one another. We’re hearing each other’s pains. We’re validating the hurt that’s been there, but we’re also working toward something different. And in the midst of that, I think our students are better for it.”
Rebecca Hernandez, associate vice president for intercultural engagement and faculty development, echoes her sentiment. “Diversity is not an add-on to what we’re doing,” she says. “It’s not about the ‘niceness’ of who we are. That’s a really paternalistic and inappropriate way to look at it. It’s that God has called us into his work and that we, out of our faith commitment, will do that work.”
Concurrently, there are demographic realities to consider. “One in two kindergartners [in this country] are of color,” Hernandez says. “That is our student population of the future. So if we want to be relevant, if we want to be around, we need to be responding to that demographic. That’s the more pragmatic, bottom-line way of looking at it.”
The Act Six Process
Retention rates are typically low for college students outside the dominant culture, even among scholarship recipients. Elsey credits the system in place for Act Six’s success. It begins with a rigorous selection process, in which about 300 applicants are narrowed down to a cadre of about seven who join the campus each fall. Once chosen, students engage in a series of weekly meetings, three hours each session, from January until school begins in August.
They also attend a convention and have a wilderness experience together, all to create camaraderie within the cohort. Once enrolled, they serve as a support network for one another, learning together how to get involved in community development, how and where to serve, and how to articulate their own story in the broader context of the importance of diversity.
For Vanessa Braulia Palma-Aispuro, a member of the program’s 10th-anniversary cadre that will join George Fox this fall, the Act Six scholarship was a make-or-break proposition. “I recall telling my sister that it was George Fox or nothing,” says Palma-Aispuro, whose older sister, Janette Quan Torres, was a member of the fourth Act Six cadre. “I had applied to many colleges, but I knew that if I did not receive a scholarship it would not be long before I would be forced to drop college and support my family.”
And her aspirations? “I plan to major in nursing. I want to find purpose. I want to find a piece of my identity in Christ. I want to feel that I can be successful despite the limits society places on me.”
Ultimately, one of the primary objectives of Act Six is giving back to the communities from whence students came. For Lucatero, that means staying involved in iUrban Teen, a national program that focuses on bringing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education to youth of color ages 13 to 18. Through the program, he’s traveled to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles to facilitate workshops on mobile apps development.
Additionally, last August he helped facilitate the iUrbanTeen Day at Microsoft, which invited 80 teens for a daylong STEM exploration event at the company’s Redmond campus. “It was truly special for me, because it brought together two organizations that I care deeply about and allowed me to share with the youth what Microsoft is like.”
And what possibilities may lie ahead.