Deirdre Newman The byzantine process of filling out...

December 04, 2002

Deirdre Newman

The byzantine process of filling out college applications can

strike fear in even the most organized high school student.

For those who don't have a lot of guidance, the intimidation and

challenge is compounded.

To demystify and help with the college application process, two

Corona del Mar High School students have opened a college center on


Costa Mesa's Westside. Tutoring is also provided.

The two founders of the student-devised and student-run center

received guidance themselves from their alliance with UC Irvine's

Community Outreach Partnership Center.

"This is especially valuable since, often, the younger folks are

given a bad knock for being self-indulgent and self-centered," said

Victor Becerra, director of the UCI center. "This project represents

the true meaning of community service and student leadership."

Michelle Burgner and fellow Corona del Mar senior Jessica Harkins

hatched the idea for the center, which they dubbed the Westside

Project, last spring as they were contemplating filling out their own


"I know how much of a maze the [college application] process is

and all the steps you have to go through," said Burgner, 17, who is

applying to six colleges. "My college counselor is amazing. I hope we

can provide the same level of support."

After hearing about their idea, their school guidance counselor

recommended contacting UCI, and a partnership was born. UCI's center

provided the room for the Westside Project in the back of the Harbor

Christian Fellowship Church.

Burgner and Harkins then started contacting colleges around the

country, asking them to send promotional material. The center is

decorated with banners and posters from schools like Pepperdine,

Connecticut College and the University of California system.

Brochures in Spanish titled "Taking the Reins of Your Future" line

the tables, and a bookcase boasts a wealth of guides to various

facets of the college application process.

Students from Corona del Mar also donated their old SAT

preparation material, and the high school donated tables.

The Westside Project officially opened the last week of September.

While the project originally targeted students from Costa Mesa and

Estancia high schools, it serves all students in the district.

While it was slow at first, eventually students began trickling

in, and things grew busy, Burgner said. But visits to the center have

tapered off since Thanksgiving break, Burgner lamented.

Becerra attributes the drop to the cycle of college applications.

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