Skip to main content


Mission Scholars uses comprehensive college admissions guidance, mentorship, and career development training to help exceptional low-income students reach their full potential and become a force for change in our communities.



30-month program to provide equitable educational opportunities and support to empower local, low-income and first-generation students in navigating the complex college application process, including essay support, peer mentorship, and college prep.


To ensure college is affordable and accessible, Mission Scholars offers this crucial program to mitigate higher education’s financial barriers by providing customized scholarship guidance, financial literacy training, and bilingual parent education.


A four-year professional development program to equip college students with mentorship, college coaching, career development training, and internship support to navigate both higher education and career launch successfully.

“Mission Scholars has completely changed my life and my view of what’s possible for me. For my family, it means a better future. It means creating a path for my younger siblings, my younger cousins, everyone that’s going to come after me, that it is possible for first-generation and minority students to attend a four-year university and to have a bigger world than we’re used to.”

-Itzli, Boston University ‘28


  • 93% of Mission Scholars are enrolled in four-year universities
  • 95% of the combined four-year cost of attendance is covered by grants & scholarships
  • Mission Scholars’ twenty Class of 2023 Scholars garnered more than $3 million in scholarships, including $130,000 in local scholarships


  • Mission Scholars’ college students completed their freshman year at their respective universities with an average 3.5 GPA
  • 86% of college students secured a summer job or paid internship this past summer
  • 92% reported that they are on track to graduate college within four years



Dear Friends,

It is with immense pride and gratitude that I reflect upon how far we have come in our mission to support first-generation college students. As the Executive Director of Mission Scholars, I am honored to lead such a dedicated team, and to be part of a community that believes in the transformative power of education.

First-generation college applicants face unique challenges and obstacles on their journey to higher education. They are the trailblazers in their families, navigating terrain that is both unfamiliar and daunting, and where even a single misstep can severely alter the course of their future.

That’s why our work is vital. By providing guidance, resources, and support, we help our students turn obstacles into stepping stones. Our mission is driven by the belief that every student, regardless of background, deserves the opportunity to earn an affordable college education.

I am continually inspired by our Scholars, and I am honored to be a part of their journeys. Each year, Mission Scholars’ staff and volunteers witness remarkable transformations as our Scholars hone their many talents and achieve academic success. These success stories reaffirm our belief in the power of education to change lives.

As we look ahead to the coming year, we remain committed to expanding our reach and impact. We are exploring new partnerships, enhancing our programs, and seeking innovative ways to better serve our Scholars. We cannot do this without your continued support.

Whether through your time, advocacy, or financial contributions, we are keenly aware that you are a critical part of our success, and a critical component of the many stirring triumphs our students have experienced over the last four years. Thank you so much for your unwavering dedication to our organization, and to our Scholars.


Cassie Lancaster
Executive Director


  • Cassie Lancaster, Executive Director
  • Katie Kinsella, Director of Operations
  • Kim Phillips, Lead Advisor
  • Jacqueline Mora, College Access Program Coordinator
  • Paige Brenner Eubank, College Success Program Coordinator
  • Yazmin Vega Escalera, College Affordability Program Coordinator
  • Paul Rivas, Study Skills Expert
  • Daphne Tebbe, Head Essay Coach
  • Ramey Echt, Application Season Coach
  • Kristine Carrillo, Intern
  • Itzli Lopez Torres, Intern


  • Fhernanda del Toro Arroyo
  • Chris Bruzzo
  • Ed Cohen
  • Estefania Contreras
  • Joe Howell
  • Judi Koper
  • Julie McGeever
  • Danna McGrew
  • Debby Peterson
  • Julia Rodgers
  • Daphne Tebbe


  • Sheri Copus
  • Marcy Eliassen
  • Suzanne Garrett
  • Debby Peterson
  • Julia Rodgers
  • Bess Scribner
  • Rachael Stein


Andrew Acosta
Nicole Hyslop Allen
Monica Alvarez
Nathan Alvarez
Vanessa Alvarez
Haley Araki
Kaleen Baker
Sharon Basham
Michelle Berkowitz
Michelle Brenner
Janice Brown
Chris Bruzzo
Teresa Bruzzo
Carolyn Callahan
Nicole Callahan
Violeta Casillas
Ruchita Chandsarkar
Diana Ciontea
Estefania Contreras

Hugo Dante
Hilary Doubleday
Kevin Easter
Ramey Echt
Chris Eubank
Esmeralda Garcia-Orosco
Andy Gersoff
Yarisma Gonzalez
Alisa Gregory
Elizabeth Grossman
Karla Herera
Zoe Hinck
Shane Holt
Darlene James
Kate Jeffery
Ann Johannessen
Allie Kelleher
Kirsten Kinsella
Alex Koper

Jenny Kramer
Alex Lee
Kate Lee
Kathy Marden
Katy McDaniel
Kim McDaniel
Julie McGeever
Susan McMillan
Viollette Meneffee
Wendy Mokler
Erin Morey
Jackie Navarette
Devon Nelson
Carla Neufeldt
Joe O’Brien
Zaira Paredes
Libby Paternoster
Carla Perissinotto
Abel Flores Prieto

Mike Randolph
Alex Regan
Kyra Rogers
Geno Rojas
Christina Nunez Ross
Adrianna Ruiz
Rachel Skokowski
Lizette Serrato
Carli Cearnal Sims
Katherine Stewart
Zuma Vallejo-Howard
David Vasquez
Sami Weiss
Amy Wendel
Marcy Wimbish
Amber Wolfe
Brett Zylstra



Chris Bruzzo, who served for nine years as Electronic Arts’ first Chief Experience Officer, has joined Mission Scholars’ Advisory Board, bringing the commitment and passion that has defined his career to our organization.

Chris, who grew up in Orange County, attributes his values and many life choices to his upbringing. His mother, an educator from Minnesota, and his father, an immigrant from Argentina, shaped his background. While Spanish was spoken regularly at family gatherings, it was not taught to Chris and his siblings because the goal was for the children to effectively assimilate. Chris always felt torn between two worlds with a strong pull to his hidden heritage.

“I believe in inclusivity for everyone and in diverse communities – and I’ve worked with global companies to create that,” said Chris. “By championing equal access for everyone, I hope we can foster a more accepting and compassionate society.”

It’s these values that inspired Chris to bring his expertise to Mission Scholars two years ago, helping to create a professional pathway for students, especially as our first cohort prepares to graduate from college and enter the workforce.

Chris is particularly well suited for this role given his experience working for some of our nation’s top companies, including Amazon and Starbucks. Chris was part of the leadership teams at pivotal moments in both of these organizations. He was instrumental in launching Amazon Prime and the Kindle, and helping Starbucks during a critical period of store closures. He spent 23 years working in Seattle and it was during this time that Chris began engaging with the Hispanic communities within his workplace, reconnecting to his heritage.

In 2014, he moved to the Bay Area with his wife, Teresa, and their three children, to join Electronic Arts (EA), where in addition to spearheading marketing efforts he created “SOMOS EA,” the Hispanic/Latinx employee resource group, now several hundred people strong.

“I have always had a strong desire to be connected to my Hispanic community,” said Chris, who learned about Mission Scholars several years ago from Estefania Contreras, an Advisory Board member. “I was incredibly impressed to learn how Mission Scholars provides wrap-around support for the students, from the time they are juniors in high school all the way through to their first job after college graduation.”

Chris has already been successful in securing corporate sponsorships, but just as importantly, connecting corporate employees with our scholars, to serve as mentors, essay coaches, and resources. “Successful professionals and students both benefit from this program, where the students come away enriched by their mentors, and the mentors come away happy to have made a positive impact in their community,” he explained.

Chris retired several months ago from EA and he and his wife are excited to make Santa Barbara their permanent home, after two years of part-time residency.

“My last nine years in the Bay Area was focused on work, and my intent now is for our time in Santa Barbara to be about community,” he said. “Mission Scholars captured my heart because they are doing something comprehensive, not just taking one part of the equation and leaving students to figure out the rest. They are really bringing this total perspective of caring for students throughout their college and career journeys. It’s a fantastic approach and a worthy mission, and one that allows me to make meaningful contributions.”



Adolfo Gonzalez
University of Southern California, Class of 2026

When Adolfo was twelve, he spent hours researching annual percentage rates and bargaining tactics so he could negotiate his family’s first car purchase. It’s still one of his proudest memories: his family driving off the lot with a car they could afford.

With two younger siblings and both parents speaking limited English, Adolfo learned to be self-sufficient from a very young age. And since his father was a local ranch manager, Adolfo was raised to understand the importance of hard work. In high school, he did manual labor on the ranch. It was hard work and initiative that drove Adolfo to apply to the Mission Scholars program as a junior at San Marcos High School.

“Mission Scholars provided the foundation and resources, both professional and personal, for me to succeed,” he says. “I couldn’t have gotten this far in my educational career without Mission Scholars.”

This fall, Adolfo will begin his sophomore year at the University of Southern California, studying at the Marshall School of Business. He recently completed his first summer internship at UBS Financial Services in Santa Barbara.

Despite his busy schedule, he cares deeply about giving back to our community. In keeping with this philosophy, he often makes time to return to the Mission Scholars office to speak to younger Scholars and their families. “If you don’t have money to give,” he says, “donate your time.”

Isabela Contreras
University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2026

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it fell to Isabela and her siblings to help save their family business. At the time, the family was forced to restructure its small avocado ranch business, shifting from wholesale production to a subscription delivery service to make ends meet. They would not have survived were it not for Isabela’s full-time commitment.

During the fall of her senior year of high school, amid a rigorous college application season, it was not uncommon for Isabela to finish a long day of school, spend a couple of hours babysitting for a local family or leading volunteer activities at Fairview Gardens, then get in the car and drive all over town to deliver bags of avocados on doorsteps. She did more than just drop off avocados; her deliveries included hand-written notes and family recipes that Isabela had taken the time to draft for their customers, both out of gratitude and because she valued the connections her family made with our community.

Isabela is uncommonly curious; she loves to learn and to explore different fields of study. Because of this, her academic interests are multilayered. For instance, while she is set on pursuing pre-medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and ultimately becoming a pediatrician, she also wants to study psychology and business. Her own family’s experience of financial instability while working as farmers and laborers in our notoriously expensive town of Santa Barbara has motivated her to not just go to college, but to use what she learns to become financially independent, and ultimately to help support the rest of her family.

“Mission Scholars has provided me with the support and empowerment to succeed, not only as a student, but as an individual,” says Isabela. “Words can’t describe how grateful I am to be a part of this community.”


Our community partnerships continue to flourish, reinforcing our joint commitment to college access, affordability, and success for our underserved community. We value our relationships with local organizations, school districts, and corporations, who generously grant us access to their remarkable students or provide unique services that contribute to our Scholars’ successes. By combining our expertise and resources, Mission Scholars and its partners consistently deliver critical support that organizations cannot offer individually. When we work together, the entire community benefits.


UCSB Pre-College Programs: Since 2020, UCSB’s Pre-College Programs has offered selected Mission Scholars students full-ride scholarships to attend their highly-selective Research Mentorship Program and Summer Research Academies. These four-week summer programs require intensive college-level research from their participants, training students for the rigors of academia at the highest level. Our Scholars who have participated in this program have gone on to excel at USC, UC Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania, Santa Clara, NYU, and more.

Program for Effective Access to College: Through PEAC’s sponsorship, Mission Scholars was granted access to SBUSD’s amazing students for our 2019 pilot program, and our partnership has continued to grow each year. PEAC school counselors consistently play a pivotal role in advocating for Mission Scholars to their students every year, yielding remarkable outcomes in college admissions. Notably, two of our Mission Scholars/PEAC students have earned the prestigious title of Gates Scholars!

We would also like to acknowledge our important relationships with the following:

  • AHA!
  • American Riviera Bank
  • AVID teachers in SBUSD and CUSD
  • Amazon SB
  • Carpinteria Unified School District
  • Deckers Brands
  • Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy
  • Electronic Arts
  • Heritage House
  • Laguna Blanca School
  • Launch Generation
  • Montecito Bank & Trust
  • Partners in Education
  • Pepperdine’s Youth Citizenship Seminar
  • REACH Fellowship
  • Santa Barbara Education Foundation
  • Santa Barbara School of Squash
  • Santa Barbara Unified School District
  • Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara
  • School Counselors at SBUSD and CUSD
  • Sensata Technologies
  • Smith Rivas
  • Turner Foundation
  • UCSB’s Promise Scholars
  • Westmont College
A Mission Scholars student presents her UCSB SRA research