Candice Torres is paying it forward.
For the opportunities that have come her way, the 23-year-old University of Central Florida honors graduate wanted to give back to her community.
Torres is volunteering as a mentor and tutor at two underserved schools in Orlando through a program she learned about while attending the Burnett Honors College.
“I see this as improving the future of Central Florida,” Torres said. “These are the students that need more attention. They need more love.”
Earlier this year, the Burnett Honors College partnered with Florida Campus Compact and AmeriCorps to create the Burnett Community Scholars program, designed to help at-risk youths see that college is an achievable goal with hard work and determination.
To that end, students tutor and mentor at Stonewall Jackson Middle School and Pineloch Elementary School.
Students commit to serving between 300 and 900 hours, and they earn $1,100 when they finish to help pay for their education.
“It’s the old motto of students teaching students,” said Kelly Astro, director of Research and Civic Engagement at the honors college. “The students see people who aren’t that far away from them in age. They can see themselves in their faces.”
Torres, who earned her degree this spring, was one of 25 students who participated in the program starting last fall. The Burnett Honors College will offer the program again next year, and it is open to all students. There also are plans to place volunteers at more schools.
At Stonewall Jackson, Torres helps out with whatever teachers need.
One of her most enjoyable moments has involved answering the curious questions of middle-schoolers: How do you juggle everything? Do you drive? Can you live on campus?
“Sharing my stories of being a college student gives them hope and excitement,” she said.
At Pineloch, Torres works on reading with kindergartners – a skill she said is crucial to learn early on.
“It has really been an eye opener,” Torres said. “They’re always jumping around. It’s a challenge to maintain their focus.”
Torres, who participated in UCF’s McNair Scholars Program, plans to pursue a master’s degree in International Public Service at DePaul University in Chicago in the fall. The McNair Scholars Program prepares low-income, minority and first-generation undergraduate students for graduate education leading to a Ph.D.
Torres also served on the President’s Leadership Council of official student ambassadors and was a member of LEAD Scholars, a leadership development program for freshmen and sophomores.