The Director of both Outreach and the President’s Scholars Program at California State University, Long Beach, Valerie Bordeaux, shares about the beginning and maturity of the President’s Scholars Program.
Long Beach, California
In my continued investigation of bright spots in a struggling California State University system (see ‘The Trick is Just Doing’ article) I found through personal experience that the President’s Scholars Program at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), is a shining example of sustained success. The first of its kind in California, the President’s Scholars Program offers full tuition and housing support along with many other benefits including priority registration and personalized academic advising  to high school valedictorians and national scholars.  The program was founded by former President Robert C. Maxson in 1995 and has been directed and managed by Valerie Bordeaux over the past 16 years.
I met with Valerie at her office on the CSULB campus to learn more about the start and development of the President’s Scholars Program. Walking to her office, I was struck by smell of blooming jasmine flowers, the same aroma I encountered each spring when I attended CSULB as a President’s Scholar years ago. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Valerie with the same warm and energetic smile that met me over a decade ago when I began my journey to higher education.
Valerie began the discussion by sharing the question posed to her from former President Robert C. Maxson – “How many valedictorians do we have on campus?” Not having the statistic readily available, Valerie got to work researching the requested information. Her first step was calling California high schools to develop a list of valedictorians. Valerie described the sense of urgency in her research based on President Maxson’s “passion, focused like a laser” to recruit California’s brightest minds to CSULB.
President Maxson had previously developed a program to recruit top students to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as their university president, and Valerie said that a similar model was adopted for CSULB. According to Valerie, the start of the President’s Scholars Program was more than a formulaic implementation of a model; it was the “magic of everything converging in a special point in time” for the university. She then elaborated that the President’s Scholars Program was a “vision embraced” by everyone involved, and it took President Maxson’s leadership to make the vision “come alive.”
Valerie explained the recruitment tactics starting with the first 10 presidential scholarships offered in the fall of 1995 to over 1,000 scholarships since inception. One of Valerie’s strategies from the beginning was to recruit from all over California, including high school students from smaller towns throughout the state. She knew that these hometowns would “celebrate their superstar” students and help to promote the program. Valerie described sending press releases to student’s local news papers and having great recruitment success from these publications. She also described the practice of sending scholarship recipients back to their hometown high schools to recruit their best and brightest students.
The President’s Scholars Program had become a “deep-seated” part of the institution after growing over a ten-year incubation period under President Maxson’s leadership, explains Valerie. She then described President Maxson’s departure from the university in 2005, and how the program found a new champion in the current university president, F. King Alexander. President Alexander brought his own focus by expanding the access of the program to other nationally recognized scholar achievements including the National Achievement Program  for outstanding Black American high school students and the National Hispanic Recognition Scholars  for outstanding Hispanic and Latino high school students. The program also adopted a global focus by encouraging students to study abroad.
Everyone involved in the leadership and development of the President’s Scholars Program has played an important role, shares Valerie. Her role started as tactician in the “march to the vision” under President Maxson. That role then shifted to supporting a new leader in President Alexander as he learned of and embraced the critical impact that the President’s Scholars Program has had on students and the surrounding community. Once the value of the program was reaffirmed under a new president, Valerie’s role transformed yet again, now to working on expanding the access of the program to new scholar groups and the global environment. No matter how individual roles have changed, Valerie and the rest of the President’s Scholars team have sustained their drive with the strong-held value to “make an impact at the core of people’s life.”
Mr. Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.
Mr. Freeman would like to extend a special thank you to President Robert C. Maxson for providing additional background information on the President’s Scholars Program.