Many Orange County students finish high school, but never pursue a college education. For many of these students, college is too costly and they simply do not explore financial aid options. Additionally, these students have not had the benefit of a family member or even a friend’s sibling attend college. UC Irvine Social Ecology students, many of whom are first generation college students, are serving as community mentors to high school students. They encourage and expose them to the benefits of attending college. These mentors are bright, highly motivated, and committed college students who act as a role model for the youth in COP.

Since 1999, COP has mentored students in the Newport-Mesa, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana Unified School Districts. COP currently serves about 1,000 students in 10 classrooms at six schools. COP seeks to acquaint middle school and high school students with college course content and procedure, familiarize them with issues of student life and intellectual pursuit in college, and create involvement in the type of policy debates that occur in the criminology field.

COP emphasizes four elements:

1) Critical thinking – through a weekly series of exercises on legal issues

2) Writing – through numerous short writing exercises

3) Oral presentation – use of weekly small group discussions, with occasional in-class presentations, such as mock trials or mock legislative sessions

4) Library research – bringing UCI-library electronic research skills to students through workshops

COP has several success stories among its student mentors. Layhearb Tep ('07) is now studying Social Work at Columbia University. Mei-Ling Malone ('06) is now a student at UCLA studying education. Esteban Rodriguez ('06) worked as a COP mentor for four years and was the first in his family to graduate college. He graduated from Stanford Law School. Irma Hernandez ('99) is a UCLA Law School graduate and is now employed with the National Labor Relations Board.

Student Exercises

More Information

Please contact faculty director John Dombrink at


“This program influenced my knowledge and interest about college because it gave me an idea of what I want to study.” (student, Estancia High School)

“It has really helped me since I learned how colleges work and our mentors really told us about college a lot.”(Brisa, Estancia High School)

“The program made me appreciate the law and the police,” (student, TeWinkle Middle School)

“Enjoyable, high motivation COP activities increase student intrinsic motivation, and subsequent investment in studying, with improvement in categorization, classification, prioritization, evaluation, and many other higher-order thinking skills.” (teacher, TeWinkle Middle School)

“But more important than all of these textbook examples is the learning or empowering of personal knowledge of their individual responsibilities as participants in what is supposed to be a democratic society. In other words, these students may not understand the entire justice system, but after having this experience, they can question and form opinions about the law, justice, and democracy.” (teacher, Estancia High School)