Program Assistants Denise and Itzel on the Porch

Student Leaders from local SoCal Communities Share their JEP Journey

ByKathrin Rising

As we wrap up another impactful fall semester at the USC Joint Educational Project (JEP), we want to shine a spotlight on two incredible individuals who play a crucial role in making a difference in the lives of students in Los Angeles – the city they themselves grew up in. Meet Itzel Whyte-Aguayo and Denise Abille, both Service-Learning Program Assistants (PAs) and shining examples of the passion and dedication that embody JEP’s mission.

Itzel Whyte-Aguayo: Connecting Communities through Education

Itzel, a Sociology major with a minor in Law and Migration Studies, was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Her journey with JEP began during the second semester of her freshman year when she volunteered after learning about the program through her father, a USC alumnus and former JEP student himself. Itzel’s commitment to supporting students in the LA area stems from her personal experience at an LAUSD public school. As a Latina USC student, she aims to empower young students of color, ensuring they know they are more than capable of attending college.

The heart of Itzel’s JEP experience lies in building connections as a peer educator. Over the eight-week assignment, she witnesses the transformative power of education as she sees her students open up and share personal stories. Itzel cherishes in-person meetings with her students, collaborating on lesson planning, and witnessing their creativity and dedication to making learning a joyous experience. Reading reflective essays allows her to gain deeper insights into her students’ motivations, reminding her of the importance of her own education.

“On a personal level, I owe everything that I have to the educational opportunities I had access to and the mentors I had at different stages of my education,” Itzel shares. Professionally, she is grateful for the training JEP provides, fostering ethical community engagement and reciprocal relationships. This knowledge, she believes, will guide her future career in advocacy.

Denise Abille: Aiming to Make a Difference in Education

Denise, a Narrative Studies major who is originally from Oxnard, CA, discovered JEP during a presentation to her class in her freshman year. Despite not choosing to participate in JEP through that specific class assignment, she opted to volunteer instead. Similar to Itzel’s experience, Denise’s motivation to get involved stemed from the positive impact college mentor-tutors had on her during after school programs in elementary and middle school. She wanted to pay forward that connection to the kids around USC.

As a volunteer, Denise found joy in connecting with students on various interests and aspirations, offering advice on school and friendships. Now, as a Program Assistant, she finds fulfillment in witnessing her students progress in their understanding of the community surrounding USC. “Volunteering through JEP is very valuable to me as an aspiring teacher,” she noted. “I was able to experience firsthand the joys of teaching children and I hope to apply JEP’s principles of ethical community engagement in my own classroom one day.”

Denise notices similar effects on the USC students she oversees, sharing the story of a student motivated by JEP to volunteer at the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), making health and care information more accessible to marginalized communities, particularly Spanish-speaking populations. This student, who was enrolled in SPAN 316: Spanish for the Professions, shared with her that he felt lucky to be able to develop professional skills crucial for his future in the medical field.

Itzel and Denise’s stories exemplify how impactful programs like JEP’s service-learning assignments can be. Not only do they offer opportunities for the kids and students during the eight-week JEP assignment, the ripple effects continue to show even decades later. Itzel and Denise, the two kids from yesterday, now becoming the college students of today, are hoping to become the teachers and legislators of tomorrow.


To read more articles that were featured in the Fall 2023 Edition of “What’s new at the JEP House?” please click here: What’s New at the JEP House? – Fall 2023 – USC Joint Educational Project