Profile picture and text: 50 FOR 50 STORIES: Story #41: Lizette ZarateStory #41: Lizette Zarate

One day as an undergraduate student at USC, Lizette Zarate saw an ad in the Daily Trojan that would end up changing the course of her career.

“I read an ad in the Daily Trojan that said you get to work with kids and get paid and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is a dream.’ So I went for the readers position in ReadersPlus. So I met Tina and long story short, I applied, I got the job.”

Zarate was placed as a tutor at Foshay Learning Center, her very own high school. She worked with middle school students at Foshay and helped them to improve their reading and comprehension skills.

Zarate was originally an English major at USC, but her work at JEP inspired her to get a doctorate in education. These experiences led her to her work today as program director of USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative and USC’s College Access and Success Program. These programs serve 1,000 students across Los Angeles from grades 6-12, preparing them to pursue a college education.

“Since I graduated, every single job I’ve held has been in education, serving kids from my community. And I think a lot of that got its roots through my work at JEP.” she says. “Prior to that, I had never considered that it’d be possible for me to make an impact on students in my own neighborhood. And so JEP is really a bookend for me in my journey, because that’s really the beginning of my career and education.”

Through her work at NAI and USC’s College Access and Success Program, Zarate is a first-hand witness of the positive impact JEP participants have on their students. She says she constantly hears about USC tutors and mentors from the students she works with, and it never ceases to put a smile on her face. Zarate also adds that having a role model in college is instrumental for these kids while pursuing their education.

“I think it’s a benefit for the USC students to get to go out into our communities and see the brilliance and the excellence that lives in our schools and in our local neighborhood, and so I think it’s enriching on both ends. It’s enriching for the students at our schools who get the experience of working with our USC students. But it is an amazing benefit for our USC students to get to go and experience firsthand all our local neighborhoods and really feel like they’re making a positive impact on our students.” she adds.

Describing her experience at JEP as a whole, one word stands out: “transformative.” Despite having graduated from USC 12 years ago, she still works with JEP through partnerships with NAI.

“JEP was so pivotal in my own journey that I will be a part of JEP forever.” she says.