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Youth Voices

Healing Hearts

Healing hearts is one of our main priorities at MAPS. Yoseline was with MAPS from 1.5 years. In that time with MAPS she provided a way for her and many others to learn how to forgive, love, and thrive in life. Healing hearts helps create a whole person.


Written July 12, 2013

“Over the course of my experience in MAPS 4 college, I have not only learned about the opportunities being a part of this organization offers me, but the meaning of life itself. I know that may sound quite drastic for me to say, but it is true. When I first entered MAPS, I thought it would be a place for me to get help on homework, as well as make new friends, while all working hard to achieve our own individual academic goals. Little did I know at the time that it was so much more.”

“I remember my first day in MAPS, Sarai Koo seemed very disciplined and professional, but there was a whole different side of her I did not yet have any idea about. In MAPS I grew as a person because I was able to mend my broken heart, I have been let down by people I loved, but Maps and Sarai taught me that no matter how many times your heart has been broken, you should continue to love and have compassion for others. I am now a restored soul thanks to Sarai’s valuable lessons that I will carry on for the rest of my life because her words, her messages, and her kindness have impacted my life.”

“Not until later, did I realize that her words and messages were a reflection of Gods message to treat others with compassion and encourage others. All my life I had heard God’s message a certain way, but after hearing it in Sarai’s interpretation I can truly say that I feel more enhanced as a person because I actually understood and took in her words. I think what I liked most about Sarai’s clever way of teaching us how to treat others and core values, was the way she delivered it, she never forced us to listen or to use what she was teaching us. We always had a voice. We were able to talk, share our stories, and share our opinions. Never had I felt as safe, comfortable, and more accepted as a person than I did in MAPS 4 college.”

Student Success

What is the definition of student success? Helen. Hands down Helen is the definition of student success. Every single opportunity MAPS had to offer Helen took them.

When students came to the office at 5:30pm, Helen came at 3:00pm, allowing her to spend countless off-hours with Dr. Koo gaining insightful wisdom. We at MAPS helped position Helen in high school to make her dreams come true. Was Helen’s student success translated after graduation from high school? —Yes. Helen went to her dream school with multiple tools and attributes to succeed. She is confidant and ready to change the world (seriously), and MAPS is ready to help her make it happen.

helen 2013

Helen H.

(2012 interview) Helen is a first at the University of Chicago, with a possibility of majoring in social since and a minor in Human Rights. She graduated in 2012 from Seira Vista High School, in Baldwin Park. Besides of being a full time student at UC, she tutors in a school program, teaching 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.

When did you first hear about MAPS 4 College?

I heard about it from a bulletin announcement through the PA system at the end of my sophomore year in high school. The announcement was about MAPS and how it guides your way to college; I thought to myself I want to go to college.

So when did you join MAPS 4 College?

I joined MAPS in the summer of my incoming year, back in 2010. When I first got in, I attended the College boot camp.


What was the college boot camp about? What did you learn from it?

It was more about finding your fit, a university that fits your personality that would make you happy and to prepare you for the requirements, not just because it is a prestige university or well known. Before I joined, I only knew that I would need good grades, to take the SAT and to have extra curricular courses.

I learned that I was supposed to do research, to see what kind of university would fit me better. I had to think about the size, the number of enrollments, what majors were offered, the location, etc.

I also learned that I needed to understand myself, to know what I really like. From that Camp, I found my current school, University of Chicago.


What does going to University of Chicago mean to you?

It is a dream come true for me to be here! I saw the fruits of my labor working out for me, just by going outside of my area and following my dreams. For me, UC is a great university, from the location, number of students, and the majors they offer.


What did you mostly learn from joining MAPS?

Simply, the first thing is that people should follow their dreams. MAPS helped me to realize what my dreams are by understanding myself as a person. MAPS guides you to follow your dreams.

Finding success is relevant to each person. Instead of what is socially accepted to be successful, you should find your own success, not to just please others.

MAPS 4 college opened a new perception for me, regarding what I want in life. Good things will happen if we know what goals we have in life. Even if we do not reach our goals at the end, along the way we’ll be happy because good things will fall into place. That’s what Sarai Koo always taught us; she believed in it. I do not think I would believe in it as well if I did not see Sarai really believing in what she told us.


How is MAPS different than high school or any other program?

In high school they tell us to be successful and to go to college; that’s it! They do not give us reasons why we are supposed to do so or what is in it for us.  It was just to either make someone proud or to be known. Yes they would offer some programs preparing for college, but not consistent. With MAPS, you are told that to become successful you have to be happy with yourself because what makes you happy, makes you successful. Success is different from person to another; understanding yourself is the first key to success.


What benefits did you gain from joining MAPS?

I was assigned to be a one-on-one tutor in the educational center I am currently working at. From MAPS, I taught students. It was part of the leadership program. After finishing Cohort 1, I was assigned to be a teacher. It helped me a lot as a student and a person. I also got involved in the college prep mentoring program for 2 years.

Currently, I am also trying to establish a MAPS 4 College program in Chicago. I am still working on understanding the satiation of the students in Chicago. It is a different situation than in Los Angeles. I see it more complex, but when I will know it more and understand it better, I will start the work. I am working in student centers now and making connections. Also, I learned from MAPS that connections are really important, that they can help you when you don’t know it.


What difficulties have you overcome?

At a certain time, when I was part of MAPS, I really wanted to quit. I showed up, but students sometimes never did. I was taking the program seriously, but they lacked. Although, I knew that I had to stay and never quit. If I did, I would have failed and never would have become the person I am now.

I also found the ability to accept myself and what I want to be.

Before MAPS, as I mentioned before, I had no background knowledge on what it takes to get to college. My family always encouraged me, but they also did not know enough on how to get me to college.


How would you picture your life without MAPS?

OH, MY GOD! It would suck! I definitely would not have had the courage to follow my dreams. I would also probably be in California, closer to home. I would have gone to a local university and majored on something that I do not even like, but I think I would have been successful; I would have struggled making money, for sure.

Just yesterday, I went to a nonprofit community center. I tried to reach for who was in charge. I asked him if it was possible for me to get involved in helping the community. If I did not join MAPS, I would have never done such thing to help the community I live in.


What does MAPS 4 College mean to you?

First, it is magical. Then, it is life changing, hope inspiring, giving, and a family for me.


How do you see it as a family?

MAPS supports you like a family does, believes in you. MAPS wants the best for you for no return; isn’t that what a family should be?

It is a place for security, a place where they want you to be yourself. They offer the environment that makes you want to be yourself, while you can not be yourself anywhere. That is why I see it like a family.


How do you think MAPS could have better assisted you?

I think I got a great deal with MAPS. I can not think of anything better to improve the program, but I would recommend to have more leadership programs. I think it is very important for everyone to be trained in leadership.


Helping the Homeless

Before MAPS began, Dr. Sarai Koo spent her time helping the homeless—focusing on helping the homeless youth. MAPS is forever indebted to NyNy. NyNy was a homeless youth who not only transformed his life, but also changed the life of Dr. Koo. NyNy is the reason MAPS was birthed. Helping the homeless taught Dr. Koo that every human life is precious.


Prior to starting MAPS, Sarai interviewed a young homeless man.  He was 15 years of age in 2005, and he had been homeless since he was 12 years of age.  He trekked from a state in the south to the western part of the United States with his mother.  At the western state, they occasionally stayed at various motels and in a van.  During this time, he missed six months of school.  In the past, no records were indicated when he was home schooled for four years.   While he was absent from school for four years of school absence, he did, however, read many books.  When he was in school, he was diagnosed as having a learning disability of which he was deemed to have the reading level of an elementary student. Physically, he had a right nubbin or stub that served as his right hand.

He experienced personal, educational, transportation, housing, and school access barriers. When he arrived from the east coast, he was sent to public homeless transitional school for one year and four months until he was prepared to matriculate adequately to a mainstream, public school.  During middle school and high school, he attended school irregularly from being late to not showing up.  His temporary home – car, motel, someone’s backyard, and shelters – hindered his ability to find transportation and attend school consistently. In addition, he stated that he was always hungry.

For this student, school was not of concern. He often expressed his desire to drop out of school.  He stated that his teachers did not like him and they perceived him to be lazy due to his sporadic attendance, sleeping or resting his head on the table during class as a result of depleted energy, and intermittingly completing his homework assignments.  His constant travels to find a place to sleep and deprived diet affected his academic performance.  “I have a couple of D’s, or F’s.”  His grades reflected all C’s, D’s and F’s in his core courses in his high school transcript.  His constant move to sleep for the night, his health, and his ability to function at his grade level resulted in poor grades.  

 During the first year I met with the young man. He expressed dropping out of school and working as a minimum wage employee (he wanted to work at McDonalds and quit school).  His desire for a better life gradually changed. Throughout our eight year mentoring relationship, he gained trust, self-esteem, and a desire to see a future. 

When asked about his experience when he turned 18, he stated:

” . . .you  gave me comfort knowing that everything was going to be alright. It taught me possibilities of having a future or any area that I like instead of a minimum wage job. It made me feel great that I could achieve whatever I wanted to achieve instead of turning to another outlet or going on the street . . . it put me on a secure path of not doing drugs or . . . detouring from my objective…With Sarai, you came in and worked with me . . . supplied food for me . . . teaching me slowly to gain my confidence and trust. It really really helped a lot. I can’t really explain it.”

During one monthly phone conversation in February of 2011, I asked him to remember the first moment we met and his thoughts about his school experience.

“I felt empowered! Five A’s and one B. That was my highlight. I got excited. My grades improved . . . when we started a couple of weeks…I had false hopes. They would promise things and not follow through.  This one guy, Zack, who would repair computers…made all these empty promises. He said he would teach me about computers . . . I really didn’t trust you until . . . food kind of helped . . . it was about the 5th week I knew you would stay.  After the 5th week past . . . It made me feel that I could be a better person.  If I mentor a kid, then I’m going to stick by him. I know if I’m going to promise him . . . then I will . . . definitely because one person can make an impact.”

Since 2003, he  has experienced barriers, such as transportation, course credit transferring, disability services, basic needs, and housing. By being there for him, he overcame educational barriers and built confidence to advocate for himself. Currently, he is working two jobs and is pursing an emergency medical technician position. He desires to save money and reenroll in college and major as an engineer. 

This young man has been in Sarai’s life for 8 years now.  They still connect!


Paul says MAPS is worth it

Paul H.

21 years old. Went to La Mirada High School, 2010. Currently studying Flight Operations & Aviation Management at University of Dubuque

My sister and I were very fortunate and believe it was the grace of God that lead us to Sarai and Maps. My mother attended 24 fitness and was connected with Sarai who was a gym trainer. At first my mother enforced myself to try it out but soon after I realized it was not like any other strict hakwons but Sarai actually helped us out personally not just with academics but with much more.”

“Advice and support that I would have never received, nothing money can buy. I had personal meetings with Sarai, I also attended her ACT classes which I got a 25 on, and also attended her camp. I’m not just saying this to praise Sarai in a false manner but everything she laid out in front of me was worth it. I hated going to her sessions and hated whenever she proposed activities to my parents but I have no regrets whatsoever, everything with Maps has been a resource in my life.”

“Well first off if it was not for Sarai I would not have ever known this University existed. I remember Sarai giving me this huge book with colleges and had me research schools that fit me the best, fortunately I came across the school that was a perfect fit for me.”

“Sarai is more than a mentor to me, she’s family. I say this not only because I have known her for so long but because the way she progresses her work is nothing but perfection and she made me feel comfortable to tell her anything and everything and the response I got from her was exactly what I needed. She made sure that I was putting in the work in whatever objective I had to complete.”

“My mother had cancer and Sarai was there when it all happened, when it was tough I always knew I could email Sarai and hear from her a message of relief, life was tough and I remember when my mother passed away I met her at a coffee bean in Cerritos and she was such an encouragement to set aside all my problems and achieve greatness, because she knew I could.”

“She was and still is extremely supportive in religious life, to keep up with religion after such a devastating event was nearly impossible for me but with family beside I was able to keep slim faith. I was honestly going to attend a community college and figure things out when it was time to transfer, it was just the easiest way out for me. However Sarai knew what I wanted and supported me through the applications, essays, and etc.”

“Again she never laid out things to make my life easier but had me do everything from start to finish.  Maps has encouraged me to become a role model, someone who could encourage other students. Not by noticeable acts but by getting good grades and just keeping a positive vibe all around. I was nervous because the first time I had anything related to maps was meeting Sarai. I had heard so much about her from my mother and to know that all the positive things told by my mother was true, it honestly unreal. Everybody around me seemed to have the same route, go to SAT school and overload yourself with work that was not how Sarai ran things.”

“I am extremely confident in myself, in security was a pretty big problem so I stayed quiet in the crowd but once I was interacting with Maps I got a sense of confidence in myself. Getting involved was no biggie and meeting new people was what I loved to do. The life I live now is nothing similar to what I was living in the past. Everything I learned from Maps has become a part of my life so much that it has just become a daily testament in my life and I really do not feel a huge difference because the change that came in life was so smooth, I never really had to over think anything, it was either I did it or not and I’m glad I did. Everything about Maps is an advantage, to skip out on such a valuable asset that could part of your life would be a regretful thing to do, you just won’t know until you get involved.”




Maria speaks out

In 2012, Maria graduated from Baldwin Park High School. Currently, she is studying Apparel Merchandising and Management at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Maria R.

In 2012, she was 18 years old. She attended Baldwin Park high school, 2012. Currently she is studying Apparel Merchandising and Management at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
“MAPS has helped me be slightly more outgoing and it made me be more comfortable working in a group which is very helpful for my major. It has also helped me with my abilities to teach/explain a concept, as well as helped me learn how to deal with stress. I was not very confident about the college application process before joining MAPS. I had tried using the Internet and taking quizzes on what colleges were a good fit but most of them were out of my price range and/or out of state and many times there simply weren’t any suggestions. I also didn’t know where to start with the essay and I didn’t even know you had to interview for some colleges.”

“MAPS has helped me with my college and life process by helping me less shy and more willing to talk in front of people and give my opinion. It has also made me more confident while facing problems. I didn’t know there were colleges that conducted interviews and I had not even considered out of state colleges before joining MAPS.”

“After a few meetings I started coming out of my shell and other members of MAPS noticed that I was more outgoing and I felt it was easier to talk to the members. Now it’s easier for me to talk to people I may not know and voice my opinion, which I had a lot of trouble with before. I learned to face what scares and worries me (at the time college applications). Being in MAPS prepared me to mature and become more independent in college. To me MAPS means drive to overcome, learn and improve.”


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Why Go To College?

Some students go to college, and others may matriculate to college but question “Why go to college”.  For some, college is not an option. They work.  For Manuel, he never asked “Why go to college” because a postsecondary education was never an option for him.  . . . Ready why . . .

Manuel D.

(interview conducted by Megan D.)

MAPS has been blessed with a new members of the staff. A senior at Pomona High School, his name is Manuel D. and his optimistic attitude and strong work ethic have been a wonderful addition to the team. Manuel was paired with MAPS 4 College through a Goodwill job program for high school students. Manuel seemed to be truly excited to have the opportunity to work with MAPS and enjoyed the work that he was doing.

Naturally, Sarai asked Manuel what his plans were for college. She was rather surprised to hear him say that he had never thought about going to college. She tried to find out more about Manuel and the background that he came from, but he was still a bit reserved. He gave Sarai a shrug and said, “In my family, we do not go to school. We work.” When he began searching for a job in high school, he said that his grades dropped and he stopped caring about school. He left it at that, but surely Manuel had a deeper story to tell. He had a background and he had potential true potential to succeed in higher education. He just needed to open his mind to the idea of going to college.

As his time passed, Manuel opened up to us more and even told us that it was difficult for him to talk about his problems with others; he usually kept to himself. A breakthrough came one Friday afternoon at the Baldwin Park office. He sat down with Sarai and me and told us about the challenges he had faced throughout high school. Manuel comes from a Mexican-American family. At his high school there is constant violence between African-American and Mexican-American students and drug deals, with items smuggled through pencils, markers, and deodorant. It is almost impossible to escape seeing these things on an every-day basis.

In his freshman year, Manuel soon became affiliated with the Mexican-American gangs at his school. He soon became involved in smoking and drinking. “I used to steal cigarettes from my dad,” Manuel recalls. He also says that he used to drink nearly every night and in such nights, he would get in violent encounters with other gangs. When he did go to school, which was rare, he would sleep through classes or not skip classes to smoke. He considered himself a drop-out by freshman year because he cared so little about school. Manuel became aggressive with his father and mother and even challenged them. It was then, Manuel recalls, that his family stopped caring about what he did. He says, “My parents stopped caring about my grades. My dad used to beat me with a belt [for bad grades]. That was painful, but it showed he cared, right?”

In the gang scene, Manuel recalls that “Every day, somebody from the gang was getting jumped. I got jumped.” During one night of drinking, he was even shot at by members of a different gang whom he had challenged. When he got home, he says, “I found two holes in my shirt where the bullets went through.” Realizing that he could have died, Manuel had an apithamy. He realized that he had to get himself out of the gangs. He ended his late night parties and gang fights. He stopped drinking and smoking. However, at school it was difficult to escape racial tensions.

Despite his separation from the gangs, Manuel spent his lunch hour with many of the gang members who had become his friends. Manuel says that he wanted to be around them simply because they had them the same interests as him, such as taste in music. Manuel says he “felt comfortable” when he was with them. However, many of these friends would smoke marijuana during their lunch hour in an area where there was little security. One afternoon, security officers came and busted the group for smoking marijuana. Manuel was written-up for being with the group even though he said that he did not smoke. The school officials affiliated him with the gangs and seemed to care little about his well-being or success. It was at this point, that he considered officially dropping-out of school; no one seemed to care what he did.

After a short period in adult school, he reentered high school with a new perspective. He was determined to get his grades up so that he could consider joining the army or Coast Guard. Gradually, he brought his grades up from mostly F’s to D’s.  He was proud of his accomplishment, but soon he was called into the administrative office. The administrator tried to influence Manuel to leave. Manuel recalls that when he went into the administrator’s office, there was an extensive list of “gangsters and suspected gangsters” that the administrators were determined to get out of the school. The administrators were convinced that Manuel was a gang member and Manuel says, “Administrators said I gotta go.”

Manuel, however, knew that if he dropped out of high school and got only his GED then he could not join the military. He continued through school and was eventually led to MAPS through his search for a job. He says that has enjoyed his work at MAPS and he particularly enjoys the people whom he works with. After his first days with MAPS, Manuel says, “I thought it was pretty fun. I had never been with people like that before…professionals.”

Manuel has begun to truly consider going to college. He is excited about the opportunities available to him through MAPS and he is hopeful about his future success with the program. With Manuel’s growing determination and hard-work ethic, it is truly exciting for the entire staff to see what he will achieve in the years to come.







Pathway Created for Paulina

After Paulina graduated from college, she understands that the pathway created for her was the best option.  CSUF interns interviewed Paulina in 2012.  She shares how her pathway has led her to work at the forth largest steel company in the world.

Paulina H.

Paulina was 22 year old at the time of her interview in 2012.  She is from La Mirada, California, and she never had the idea of having a full time job out of her area.  When she was attending high school, she was not entirely certain about going to college.   During her junior year of high school, she did not know what the requirements were or how to apply to a college, until she heard about MAPS 4 College.  After joining MAPS, she graduated from Grace College in Indiana (with a bachelor in criminal justice) in 2012.  Now, she is working full time in South Korea at the English department of Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO), one of the largest steel companies in the world.

After her life changing experience, we had the privilege of interviewing Paulina; she explained to us how MAPS 4 College changed her perception of life and led her way to success:


How did you hear about MAPS 4 College?

My mother knew Sarai Koo, founder of MAPS.  When my mother mentioned me to Sarai, she told her about MAPS and that she wanted to meet me.


What was the purpose that led you to join such a program like MAPS?

A lot of my friends had parental support to go to SAT tutoring centers for test preparations.  I did not have this kind of support from my parents, but not because they cared less.  They fully supported me in high school and to do well; both of my parents got their education in a different country with a different system than what we have here.  They were not familiar with the process and neither was I.  During my junior year in high school I panicked when I realized that I needed to start preparing and applying for college, but I did not know where to start, when everyone started to prepare.  As a 1.5 generation, we did not have the knowledge on how to apply to college, even though we were already adapted to the culture.

 Tell me more about how different MAPS 4 College is than tutoring centers?

MAPS are a program that shows students the way to get to college, a key to that door and the way to that door.  You, as a student, will have the choice to go to that door and unlock it with the key MAPS provides you with.  They will tell you how to apply, what you need to apply, what should you do and how to do it.  Train you for skills that you will not only use in school, but in your life as well.  They help us to find our goals and to reach them, unlike tutoring centers where they just prepare you for tests and that’s it.


What are something’s you learned about yourself through joining MAPS 4 College and how did it help you as a person to be where you are now in your life?

A lot of intelligent, hardworking people are out there in the world, but being the smartest does not mean that you will be the best.  You need to use your abilities, have good timing and take advantage of opportunities when you have them.  College-wise, I learned to think outside the box.  A lot of my high school friends went to in-state universities close to their homes.

With MAPS I learned that options are many and a lot of them are good, you just need to choose what’s best for you.  I learned if I go to an out-of-state I would learn more by going and depending on myself.  I would learn and see more out there in the world; it opens your mind when you go to new places and see new people.  Finally, I attended Grace College in Winona Lake, IN.   Also, I went to both China and Korea as an exchange student, that`s how I got my current job by going abroad.  It was an amazing opportunity to see the world and how people are different.  I learned that you cannot say there is a bad country and good country because each country has it good and it’s bad.  One thing I’m sure about is if I went to a school close to home, I would have never been here in South Korea with this job.  Now I would probably be in California with a part time job waiting to get married.  Going out and experiencing more made me to want more.  I’m not saying I am an intelligent person, but I had an opportunity to go out and I took it.  MAPS definitely provided me with a key to enter my success door.  I got helped to understand how the real world is and made my own decision of what path I would take in my life.


What skills did you gain from MAPS that you did not only use in your education but in your career as well?

When I was in high school, before joining MAPS, I hated public speaking, not even talking or having a phone call with someone I did not know.  I would let any other person talk for me instead.  I grew up with my friends.  I did not need to get out of my shell.  I would do any task that did not involve any interaction with people, but not speaking in public.  MAPS brought me out of my shell.  Now, a big part of my job is public speaking. Sometimes I have to speak in front of more than 150 employees and many of them I don’t even know.  In morning sessions, I would teach all the employees of the company a phrase or two in English, I would make phone calls, translate and even present.

Which faculty member left the most impact on you? Why?

Sarai Koo is the person who played a huge part of leading me to success.  Most importantly, Sarai introduced me and welcomed me to MAPS.  She taught me most of the skills I needed, she opened my eyes to see what’s out there in the world.  It was her who gave me the advice to apply to an out-of-state school, even if I did not want to go, to just apply there.  She also helped me a lot with my writing skills.  She is one of the most passionate, hardworking persons I have ever known in my life.

Describe yourself before joining MAPS 4 College as a student.

Before joining MAPS I was not very concerned about college.  I was focusing mostly about high school during that time.  I was not looking forward; I cared less about my future without any plan for the long run.


What about after joining MAPS, tell me about yourself.  

After joining MAPS I had a better understanding about what I should do next.  It helped me into taking my next step of going to college and what were the options that I was able to take.  I understood that college will be different than high school.  It was the time to make the transition, to start planning everything myself.  Unlike high school, where everything is given to you.  Classes for example, in high school you have your class schedules given to you.  College on the other hand, you have to choose your own and plan your way to graduation.  Going to college means more responsibilities that will require more organization.


Tell me about your relation with MAPS after high school, how would you describe it?

After I went to college, I used to visit every time I would get back home.  I would volunteer to help as much as I can, this is the least I can do in return to what I gained from MAPS.  Now, after moving to Korea, I hardly keep in touch with them, but I do whenever I have the chance.  Every time I talk to them I hear about improvements and achievements for their programs.









Any recommendations for MAPS 4 College that would benefit new student?

At POSCO, we are implementing the MBTI test.  It is a test that helps you to know your personality type.  It can help you know if you are an introvert, a judge, or a feeler.

It doesn’t tell you what kind of person you are, but it tells you things that you would prefer.  Finding what you are passionate about would narrow down a lot of choices for students to find their way to do well.  I highly recommend all high school students to join MAPS for sure.












Amanda had her mind set

When Amanda first came to MAPS, she had two goals in mind–increase her test score to get admitted to a PharmD college and receive scholarship money.

Amanda W.

(at the time of the interview, Amanda was 20 years of age)
joined MAPS 4 College:  2009, Junior in High School
high school attended:  Sunny Hills High School
graduation year: 2010

-Colleges/Universities to which you have been accepted:  St. Louis College of Pharmacy, University of Southern California, University of the Pacific, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, University of Missouri Kansas City, Case Western

She is attending St. Louis College of Pharmacy.  Anticipated graduate year of 2016 with a Doctorate of Pharmacy- Pharm. D


How did you hear about MAPS 4 College?

From my mom.  I honestly do not remember how she heard of it.  Probably from a flyer, friend, or by word of mouth.  Sarai has permission to fill in the gaps here.


What led you to join MAPS?
I needed to raise my ACT score by two points within the next two months in order to achieve my desired ACT score of 30.  I needed this score to be competitive for my colleges and to get the Presidential Scholarship at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

The program was affordable and flexible with my schedule.  The tutor was credible.

Have you previously joined an organization/program/service agency/etc.?

In terms of a tutor, yes I attended two other tutors while in high school and preparing for the SAT/ACT:  Almers and Elite

In terms of non-profits, no.  MAPS is the only non-profit organization that I benefited from academically.  MAPS helped me realize that I need to apply to a lot of colleges and leave my options open.

What MAPS activities and programs were you involved in and indicate the year?

ACT tutoring- one session in 2009 during my Junior year.
I honestly am very thankful for the affordable and personalized ACT tutoring that I received during my session that MAPS provided.  I was able to continue my learning after the time slot for tutoring whenever I had extra time.  I reached my goal because resources to do well on the ACT were made available and Sarai, the founder, was very supportive, personable, and flexible.  To top off this personalized experience, I reached my goal of improving my ACT score by two points within 1-2 months.

What lessons have you learned from your experience with MAPS that have been of great benefit to you as of this moment?

Educational, Personal, Emotional, and Social
It is important to be driven and to find resources that help you achieve your goals.  It is important to find mentors and people who genuinely are committed to and capable of helping you reach those goals.

How long were you associated with MAPS? What was your role? – for example, student, intern, or volunteer?

Two months- student.

How confident were you about applying to college before joining MAPS?

I was confident with my ACT score but not confident that I would be as competitive as possible.  After MAPS I was much more confident about my ACT score and being competitive in a holistic sense.

How have MAPS helped you with your college and life process? In what way?

Taught me that individual, achievable, measurable, and attainable goals are important to establish in order to achieve my full potential.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

Helped me remember that I need to put in time to see results on the ACT.   I also need to study effectively.

Thinking back, what was your impression of MAPS 4 College when you first joined?
Initial impression:  non-profit, never tried this before, not sure if it is going to be as good as my higher paid tutors.

Describe yourself before joining MAPS 4 College as a student?

Frustrated about my ACT score.

Have you experienced any changes in yourself during your participation with MAPS?

I feel that I can be up front with my goals and that people will respect me for that, and in the best cases, help me toward my goals.

Reflecting back, what is something you learned about yourself from MAPS? In what way has MAPS helped you grow as a human being? It can be something little or big. 

I learned that if you want something, you have to prepare for it and gear yourself for that event to actually occur.

What are some tools MAPS gave you that you still use today? why?

MAPS reminded me of the value of hard work, and this core value is what causes gains and losses in the academic realm and life itself.

In your opinion, what are the advantages of joining MAPS 4 College?

The benefit of joining MAPS 4 College is getting to externally process your goals with people that genuinely care about students and learning and are equipped to help you.  MAPS 4 College does not give you goals, but rather asks you to look within yourself and think about your personal goals.  Then, once you share those, they are there to cheer you on and provide academic tools that work with your schedule.

After all these years, what does MAPS 4 College mean to you?

MAPS 4 College is a resource that I think warmly and fondly upon.  When I think of MAPS 4 College I am reminded of sincere individuals that helped me get into my accelerated pharmacy school directly from high school.  I am reminded that there are people in the world that earnestly want to help young adults realize their potential- in these days that is hard to come by.

 How could MAPS have better assisted you?

I just wish I had found them earlier!

Are there any improvements the organization/staff could make to help future MAPS students?

Better marketing, wider marketing.  Keep the vision but make it bigger so that the maximum number of students can benefit.  Target all students low to high socioeconomic scale.  Keep believing in the program!  It helped me.



(assisted in 2009)

“Whenever I was under a lot of pressure regarding the college applications or even personal situations, I sought MAPS 4 College to help me with that burden.  And unlike many organizations that claim they provide utmost care for the students in need, i feel a strong connection and positive vibe from MAPS. Sarai Koo, CEO and Founder of MAPS, is literally just a phone call or text message away.  During time when I am completely overwhelmed or whenever I have a small question, Sarai never fails to help me the next day or talk out my situation over the phone.  Whether it is a college discussion at a local cafe or munching Oreo min patties while talking about life, MAPS 4 College continues to uphold a familial and friendly atmosphere.  Once joining MAPS, I immediately felt the positive, healthy vibe of the staff who honestly cares so much about the student and are eager to assist academically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I am grateful how for how much MAPS 4 College really cares and remains true to its promises of helping students succeed in school, college, and life.”


Cristina reflects

Cristina R.

(2012) Cristina is 18 years old and attended Sierra Vista High School. Currently, she is studying English in the University of California, Santa Barbra.

“I joined MAPS 4 College in order to expand my extracurricular activities outside of high school. I also joined in order to get more involved with community service and to improve on my ACT score.”

“Before MAPS 4 College, I was a part of a college preparatory program called AVID. It was similar to MAPS in that helped us to improve up on our SAT score (MAPS focuses on ACT). However, AVID lacked involvement in community service and was geared towards C average students while MAPS can be helpful towards any student across the spectrum. Also, leadership training was virtually nonexistent within the AVID program.”

“I have yet to find an organization on campus that incorporates all of the elements that make up MAPS 4 College; however, there are groups that primarily focus on leadership and professional development. As a part of the hall staff, we are expected to attend workshops that deal with inclusiveness as well as building strong networks among each other that encourage mentorship”

“Like MAPS, it encourages personal growth and provides me with the tools I need to improve if I choose to utilize them.I learned that it is vital to complete the little tasks that I use to think I was above doing, such as repetitive homework. It will eventually catch up to me. Now that I am in college and an English major, I am required to write extensively with minimal mistake”

“I realize that I have hard to work harder to get my formatting skills up to par since starting college because I did not fix these problems in high school. Now I make certain to fully understand rather than minimally. I need to get over my fear of failing or being rejected in order to reach my true potential. I realized that is why I did not put the LGBT youth group into fruition. It is also one of the reasons I procrastinated a lot”

“I now take the time to complete my schoolwork ahead of time and actually take the time to make it the best possible paper I am capable of creating. It is important to meditate over memories that are constraining or holding me back. Before I came out to my parents, I use to think that not being able to be out to them was my biggest problem, but through self-reflection I now know that the problem goes beyond that.”

“Showing emotion is not a weakness. Various times in the program, people shared their stories and experiences that were at times painful for them to do so. They did not share them because they were weak, but because they were able to trust the group. It is always best to keep critical comments to myself.”

“Being civil does not mean insincerity. It means I am choosing to be respectful. During the program, some of the members shared their dislike towards each other and I think it affected the trust level in the group. The best way to keep from badmouthing someone is else is by looking at their positive qualities.”

“MAPS has helped me in the college and life process by challenging me to not limit myself. Before I had joined, I was only really involved with band, where it was looked down upon to join something that involved planning events or making posters. But after MAPS I was able to see the value in the collaboration and planning process. Now that I am in college, I am making an effort to join groups that will build my skills so that I am a better-rounded individual.”

“Before MAPS 4 College, I was the kind of student that would refuse to do an assignment if I thought it was beneath me. I was a bit condescending to say the very least. If I didn’t understand something I would usually just blame the teacher instead of myself. I was used to getting by with putting forth minimal effort”

“During my time at MAPS I was able to see that I would have to start putting forth more effort and blaming society was not going to help me reach my goals. I was able to humble myself into asking for help when I needed it and my grades had an upward trend as a result. I also became more responsive to others as far as listening and incorporating their ideas.

“I feel like my personal relationships have improved after my participation with MAPS.  My interactions with my family are more positive and I am better at regulating my anger when I do get upset. I think this is mostly because I am better able to value them as they should be and being able to accept when I have made a mistake.”

“I have also begun to work more on my social skills in interacting with strangers and acquaintances. My job literally requires me to interact with everyone in my building so I feel very fortunate that I am getting paid to work on something that I need to better myself. I learned that I was not valuing the people around me as much as I should have been. I can be a very sarcastic person at times and not realize the power of my words. This is something that I struggle with since it is an old habit.”

“Now that I am more conscious of this, I have been able to be a more positive person to be around and I see that my personal relationships are a lot healthier than before. To me, MAPS 4 College is an opportunity to better understand myself so that I am able to improve so that I may be a happy, successful individual. It is a combination of evaluating who I am, what I want, what I need to work on, how I can get the tools for myself, putting those tools into practice, and self evaluating throughout the process.”