Coast Mesa, CA, (June 12, 2020) LA TIMES / DAILY PILOT
For Early College High School graduate Paola Mendoza, college couldn’t have come any earlier — the Costa Mesa teen recalls taking her first course, public speaking, at Coastline Community College at the ripe old age of 14.
"It was very interesting," the teen recalled. "They probably thought I was somebody’s kid or something."
Whatever momentary awkwardness Paola may have felt soon faded as she became acclimated to Early College’s dual enrollment program and began to excel, sometimes earning top scores in classes where her peers were much older.
By the time she was a junior, she was balancing courses at Early College and Coastline while working a part-time job. She enrolled in summer classes that would take care of her general education credit requirements after high school, when she’d be attending college as an actual college student.
"There were a lot of times I’d question what I was doing," Paola, now 17, admitted. "It was very stressful, but I learned a lot."
Her diligence paid off. School officials estimate Paola has earned 322.5 credits, far beyond the 220 credits required to graduate from high school.
In fact, by the time she graduates with Early College’s class of 2020, she will have earned enough credits to start UC San Diego in the fall as a late-quarter sophomore.
Early College Principal Dave Martinez said he’s seen Paola ascend from shy freshman to an ambitious senior who sees something she wants and goes after it with aplomb.
"She’s really just a grinder," he said. "If there’s an opportunity, whether it’s community service or volunteering, she’s going to put her name in the hat — give me 50 Paolas and my job’s easy."
Paola was active in many Early College clubs, including the Save Our Youth (SOY) Center, Girls, Inc., a nonprofit that focuses on empowering young women and girls, and the college readiness program Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID).
Although Paola’s accomplishments are impressive, impressing others is not what has inspired her stellar academic transcript. Her accomplishments, she says, are for her parents — Claver and Cesar Mendoza — who moved to the U.S. from Mexico 20 years ago and worked for their three daughters to have better opportunities in life.
That’s why Paola’s parents were especially pleased when they learned their daughter had not only earned a full, four-year scholarship through the Angels Scholars program, but also additional scholarships provided by Girls, Inc., the National Charity League’s Newport Chapter and the Draper Family Foundation Fund.
"My dad literally carried me, and my mom was half crying, half laughing," she recalled of their learning of her awards. "It was a great moment."
Starting college in the fall as a sophomore will give Paola time to concentrate on her goal of preparing for medical school with a double major in sociology and likely biology. She wants to learn more about social inequity as it relates to health and wellness.
To incoming freshmen, who have yet to step on their first college campus, she has this advice:
"Please be involved in your community," she said. "You get to meet other people who may have something to teach you—try to learn from them. And never lose your motivation."