To hear her students tell the tale, Lisa Przekop isn’t just helping them pave a pathway to college success, she’s out there blazing trails, tearing down barriers and challenging whatever obstacles may get in their way. As UCSB’s associate admissions director, Przekop is dedicated to ensuring broader inclusivity at the university.
“Our goal is fill our freshman class with greater diversity — ethnic diversity and geographic diversity and quality — to bring the highest prepared class,” Przekop said of the Admissions Department.
“We go throughout California to all kinds of high schools, from those that are traditional college-bound schools to low-income schools with low college attendance rates.”
Growing up in a low-income, single-parent household in San Diego (her mother was a hairdresser with a high school education and her father did not complete high school and left the family when she was in elementary school), Przekop was once the exact type of student she now tries to target.
“No one in high school ever talked to me about going to college and I thought there are probably a whole bunch of people like me,” she told Noozhawk. “I thought college was only for the rich kids.
“I would look at people getting ready for college and think, wow, how lucky, wouldn’t that be neat? But it didn’t occur to me that I could go live in a dormitory and have that experience because I was from a low-income family and had no idea that financial aid would pay for that.
“That’s still a perception,” she continued. “We see that here in Santa Barbara. Kids at Santa Barbara High don’t think that UCSB is an option for them. It’s in their own community and we see that all the time.”
Although Przekop always did well in school, she was tracked out of the college-prep courses. It wasn’t until her senior year that her English teacher encouraged her to attend the local community college and later transfer to UCSB.
She’s been on campus ever since.
“I was thrilled when I found out there was actually a profession where you could talk to students about the importance of going to college,” she said. “I was drawn to the idea of education. It changed everything for me, and I just always wanted to reach out to kids who hadn’t really thought about college for themselves.”
Przekop has a special place in her heart for kids who have grown up in the foster-care system.
“I relate to them,” she explained. “I wasn’t in foster care, but I had a messed-up childhood.”
In addition to her work in the UCSB admissions office, Przekop runs the Guardian Scholars Program, which offers academic support, enrichment services, student advocacy, career guidance, peer networking, housing assistance and financial aid for students who have been part of the foster-care system.
“I always say that I have about 120 children, two biological sons — Zack 16, who attends Bishop Diego High School, and Taylor 20, who goes to Oregon State — and about 100 or so foster kids,” she laughed.
The Guardian Scholars Program, which exists at many colleges, started at UCSB when Przekop read about Wendy Read and the proposed Children’s Project Academy, which will be California’s first residential charter school for foster youth. She wrote to Read and said she’d love to volunteer. Then, she spoke to Chancellor Henry Yang and told him, “we needed to make sure our campus was ready for what might be an influx of students from that school.”
Yang was — and continues to be — extremely supportive.
“UCSB is really lucky because Chancellor Yang is really committed to outreach, really committed to making the campus more diverse,” said Przekop, adding that his support for Guardian Scholars and foster-youth initiatives has extended to included Michael Young, UCSB’s vice chancellor of student affairs.
“There has never been a time where I wanted to do something that I had to say no,” she said. “The campus has been super supportive of the effort.”
The Assistance League of Santa Barbara — which runs a Fostering Friends Program and recently sponsored a Mock City for foster youth who will soon age out of the system — has also been one of the Guardian Scholars Program’s staunchest supporters.
Przekop said the community can help by donating furniture and goods, or money. Anyone interested in getting involved is encouraged to contact Przekop or to make donations through the Assistance League.
“I tell people if you’re clearing out your closet, donate it to the Assistance League because they take the profits from their thrift store and funnel it back into these programs,” she said.
The Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara also has a scholarship for foster students from Santa Barbara County.
“One of the things that’s really important to me is doing outreach to younger students in foster care, serving as a mentor,” said Alana Osaki, one of Przekop’s students and co-chairwoman of the UCSB Guardian Scholars.
“Sometimes it’s really hard to make the time between school and work and getting everything done, but it’s really important to me.”
Clearly, she’s following in the footsteps of her own mentor, Przekop, who beams when she hears Osaki say this.
“One of the biggest misperceptions about foster youth is that they don’t have contact with their families,” said Antoinette “Tweet” Moreland-Carter, another student co-chairwoman of the Guardian Scholars.
“There is so much family stuff it can be overwhelming,” she said. “There’s a lot of dysfunction and in a lot of ways you become the leader in the family. ... You’re expected to solve problems.”
Przekop says the misperception that foster youth are alone is surprising.
“They’re not,” she said emphatically. “The vast majority have a lot of family contact. Unfortunately, a lot of it is stressful family contact, again because they are the ones who have made it.
“They are adults now in the eyes of their family,” she continued. “They are successful adults in the eyes of their family. And so they are the ones who can be called upon to help fix a bad situation. It’s a lot to put on a college student.”
Fortunately for the students, Przekop is there to lend a hand, sometimes even an extra pair, thanks to Fred, her “incredibly flexible husband” (and another Gaucho grad) who often assists with heavy lifting, such as moving students out of dorms and into apartments.
“I couldn’t do this without his support,” she said.
The work is rewarding, but Przekop acknowledged it can be exhausting.
“You are dealing with constant crisis,” she noted.
To keep a balance, Przekop enjoys spending time with family and friends.
Her favorite thing about her work?
“Just meeting people,” she said. “Meeting amazing students, someone like Tweet, someone like Alana; it is inspiring.”
Imagining them both walking across the stage to graduate “is, like, wow,” Przekop smiles at the picture in her mind. “That was pretty cool.”