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Photo of Hadj Ahrns

CSULB's President's Scholar Hadjh Ahrns assisted Ugandan villagers with health care prior to medical school.

President’s Scholars Make a Difference



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chance encounter in a remote Uganda village made a lasting impact on several lives.

Amon was a little boy beset by severe malnutrition when Cal State Long Beach President’s Scholars Hadjh Ahrns and Michael Sundberg, along with two other volunteers, met him during summer 2004 while working at medical clinics operated by a physician from Ahrns’ hometown.

Today, Amon has a healthier, more promising future. “His parents agreed to let us take him back to our clinic in Buhoma for a three-week re-feeding program that Dr. (Scott) Kellerman had set up. We all pitched in and supported Amon to go to school where he will be educated, clothed and given regular meals,” said Ahrns.

For Ahrns, the experience affirmed that pursuing an M.D. degree was the right decision, while Sundberg “decided to go mostly because I was (and still am) interested in a career involving humanitarian work, particularly in developing nations,” and wanted to explore paths to that goal. Sundberg graduates in May with a biology degree and recently was accepted by Dartmouth and Vanderbilt medical schools.

These opportunities were made possible in part by the President’s Scholars program.

Twelve years and more than 800 scholars after its founding by former President Robert C. Maxson, the program is flourishing under the leadership of President F. King Alexander. This fall, 50 exceptional high school students out of 540 applicants will join the more than 300 scholars from 298 high schools in 43 California counties studying at CSULB.

“This unique scholarship program has been recognized by our students, parents and faculty members as a prestigious opportunity for qualified valedictorians and National Merit finalists and semifinalists,” said John Wong, a counselor at Long Beach’s Woodrow Wilson Classical High School. “We have had past recipients present this excellent program to our students. Bottom line, many of our students are trying harder to excel academically in order to qualify for this scholarship. They want it.”

Fully privately funded by donors, the program provides students with tuition, housing, books and in particular, personal attention. “This program is extremely beneficial to our students in more than one way,” Wong noted. In addition to receiving financial support, “Emotionally and mentally, the recipients have a sense of accomplishment of all their hard work, a sense of belongingness to their campus and they are given opportunities to excel and become leaders not only in school but also in the community.” In return, the scholars provide approximately 5,500 hours of service activities each semester to the campus and community.

Cathy, Matthew and Bob PocockCristabel RuizFar left, Bruce and Cathy Pocock with their son Matthew. Daughter Elizabeth is studying this spring in Australia. Cristabel Rodriguez, left, oversees child care programs at two Long Beach schools.

Scholars come from diverse backgrounds and have a variety of personal and professional goals. Cristabel Ruiz Rodriguez, a valedictorian of Horizons High School in Bell Gardens, is the first in her family to go to college. “The President’s Scholars helped me because they walked me through the process. It wasn’t until I actually visited the school that I saw what they offered, and I loved it,” she recalled.

She earned her B.A. in child development and an M.A. in teacher education and now is site supervisor for the Carver Elementary School Child Development Center and the Monroe K-8 School Educare program in the Long Beach Unified School District.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity that was given to me from the donors,” she said. “I’m also grateful to all the people behind the scenes, putting everything together just to make sure that everybody was successful in their studies at Cal State Long Beach.”

The program’s positive impact on CSULB’s academic reputation has paved the way for more students—not only the scholars—to enter top graduate schools including Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Johns Hopkins.

Ahrns, the son of a Nevada City, Calif., chiropractor, was valedictorian of Nevada Union High in Grass Valley and completed his B.S. in biochemistry in 2003. Now in his third year at UC San Francisco Medical School, “I was introduced to the health professions field early,” he said, adding that he was ingrained with “a sense of the power and utility of non-traditional healing practices.”

His desire to broaden his medical knowledge along with a love of travel have taken him around the globe to learn more about other cultures’ medical traditions. “My goal is not to practice alternative medicine, but more to be a catalyst and a physician that can talk with patients about the options for care outside of traditional allopathic medicine. I’m not going to be an acupuncturist or homoeo-pathist, but rather I will be a resource for patients who are pursuing those kinds of modalities under the guidance of an allopathic physician.”

Some families have more than one scholar, as is the case with Ahrns and his younger brother, Paul, who is studying environmental science and international relations, and Sundberg, whose older brother, Eric, is in Stanford Medical School.

Parents Bruce and Cathy Pocock of Needles, Calif., consider the program ideal for their two children, Elizabeth and Matthew. For them, the benefits go far beyond the finances.

“We’re from a small town and our children come from a school with an enrollment of only several hundred, so it was good that they would get special attention,” said Cathy. In addition to guidance at registration, “There is so much encouragement for the kids to socialize and be active in campus activities,” Bruce remarked. “The President’s Scholar program provides a foundation of relationships and networking that begins to develop even before they start their freshman year (at the scholar orientation), and which continues through graduation and even beyond.”

The Pococks are the pharmacists and owners of Needles Point Pharmacy and are among the program’s donors. “We think it’s a great program and we feel an obligation to contribute what we can and have it go toward future scholars,” Bruce added. “We were so happy with the program and we’re proud that our kids got into it, so we want other people to be able to have that same opportunity.”