RFA / USC Caldwell Neighborhood Scholars

In December 1965, shortly after the Watts riots, the late Russell L. Caldwell, a specialist in Early American history, a human rights activist, and the president of the USC Faculty Association, challenged his colleagues to support a positive new kind of demonstration at USC — a commitment to create a USC-to-neighborhood relationship by providing scholarships for students from high schools surrounding USC.

“We seek your aid,” he outlined in his initial plea to USC staff and faculty, “in establishing FacultyStaff supported scholarships for worthy students in USC’s neighborhood who could not otherwise ever hope to attend USC.” He challenged his colleagues to “donate $5 or more per month through payroll deductions in order to raise $2000 a year to aid students.”

The USC Neighborhood Scholarship, as it was then called, officially launched in 1966. Although the $2000 goal was not reached immediately, the first Scholarship was awarded the next year to Preston Mike, Jr., a 17-year-old mid-year graduate of Manual Arts High School. Mike received $549 to help pay for books and tuition and was granted additional awards until his graduation in 1972.

Professor Caldwell died in 1979, and at his request, the USC Retired Faculty Association became a sponsor of the scholarship. The RFA then voted to change the name to the Russell L. Caldwell Neighborhood Scholarship Program.

USC / RFA Caldwell Neighborhood Scholars 2019-2020



Mariela Cardenas: A senior majoring in English with a minor in Sociology, Mariela’s been on the Dean’s List since 2016. She works at the USC Rossier School’s Pullias Center for Higher Education where she assists faculty with research on the impact of student financial aid. She recently presented her research at the Dornsife College Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly Work. Mariela graduates in 2020.


Brenda Lili Apreza: A senior East Asian Studies major with goals to work abroad for the U.S. government, Brenda attended a Korean Language Study Abroad Program at Yonsei University,  Seoul, South Korea for the 2018-2019 academic year. She recently returned from Japan where she conducted research into Japanese culture and society. She won the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for her study abroad research and also the  Foreign Language and Area Studies Scholarship. Brenda works at the USC Japanese Center, plays the saxophone and will graduate next May.

Esmeralda Leon: Phasing smoothly into her junior year, Esmeralda majors in Aerospace Engineering. Over the summer, she worked at Trader Joe’s and as Director of Outreach for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) to plan programs that encourage students to seek careers in the STEM fields. Esmeralda also volunteers with the GEAR UP 4 LA Alumni Program that mentors high school students seeking higher education.

Carlos A. Fajardo: A junior Biological Sciences major on the pre-med track with a Biotechnology minor, Carlos volunteers with Latino Students in Medicine focused on Latinx students seeking careers in the medicine. He worked as a Resident Advisor for the USC Summer Bridge Program where he planned events for incoming freshmen from local high schools. He is bilingual, proficient in several computer operating systems and plans to attend medical school.

Nicholas Lopez is a sophomore majoring in Psychology and Human Development with a Game Design minor. His hobbies are drawing cartoons, physics and learning coding. He is president of  Shepherd’s Club, a Christian Bible study group and volunteers with Share A Meal program that feeds the homeless. He works at the USC Rossier School’s Pullias Center for Higher Education, volunteers at USC’s JEP House and assists students at Manual Arts High School (his alma mater) prepare their college applications through USC’s I AM Mentor Program.

Briana Lizbeth Chavez Ramos: A sophomore, Briana is a double major in Political Science and French with plans to add a Business Law minor. She wants to become a lawyer. During the past Spring semester, she participated in USC’s Joint Educational Project with the School On Wheels program in downtown Los Angeles where for eight weeks she tutored homeless children who live in shelters. Over the summer, she traveled to Istanbul, Turkey and volunteered at Share A Meal, another organization that feeds the homeless. Briana plans to study abroad in London.

Jada Salazar: New to USC, Jada hails from Susan Miller Dorsey Senior High School and plans to major in Business Administration. While at Dorsey, she served as student body president. She’s won numerous awards from U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass, L.A. City Councilman Herb Wesson and Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti for her academic and leadership endeavors. In 2016, she was honored with the Barack Obama Presidential Award for Educational Excellence and in 2018 won the 1st Place Certificate of Achievement in the Summer Legal Institute Negotiation Training & Competition. Jada made the Dorsey High School Principal’s Honor List all four years.

Keyron Colvin: A freshman, Keyron found his way to USC from Manual Arts Senior High School where he maintained a four year 4.0 GPA, was president Magnet Senate leadership club, a member of the Robotics ClubCollege AmbassadorsManual Arts Beyond Borders that taught empowerment strategies to underserved and immigrant communities and played in the Manual Arts Band. He amassed 40 units of college credits via community college Upward Bound programs, volunteers to feed Santa Monica’s homeless and has interests such as writing poetry and gaming. Keyron is a Computer Science major.




Smartphones make it easy to donate to the Caldwell Neighborhood Scholarship.

Text the word “Emeriti” to 41444 on your cell phone to make a pledge. You will receive a text that gives you a link to donate.