USC President Dr. Carol L. Folt speaks at the USC Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative Annual Gala & Awards Ceremony at USC, May 17, 2022. (Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

About NAI

The USC Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) is a rigorous college access and success program operated by USC Educational Partnerships in the division of University Relations. NAI annually prepares almost 1,000 6th-12th grade students from low-income households from the neighborhoods closes to USC in South Los Angeles and East Los Angeles for admission and graduation from college. The majority of USC NAI Scholars will become first-generation college students.

From grade 9-12, NAI students attend early morning weekday classes on the USC campus before their regular school day begins. In addition to early morning classes, NAI 6th-12th grade students participate in Saturday classes focused on a wide range of subjects to provide academic enrichment, SAT prep, and personal development programming. NAI’s Saturday Academy gives students the rigorous academic immersion they need to compete on a national level by providing instruction on the SAT and on AP exams. When it comes time for NAI Scholars to take the SAT, they have been exposed to over 2,000 college-vocabulary words, roots, prefixes, grammar, writing skills, reading comprehension, analysis, and debate. Students also receive extensive math instruction beginning with pre-algebra, up to and including AP Calculus. NAI Scholars also complete up to 100 inquiry and project-based science labs.

This demanding regimen of early morning and weekend classes on the campuses of USC creates a mindset of academic excellence early on in these bright and young scholars. More importantly, the NAI program structure allows students to develop a familiarity with a university campus, helping them to envision a successful college future for themselves.

NAI provides students with unique cultural enrichment programming through the NAI Theater Workshop. NAI Scholars compete in an annual essay competition to attend the international Dickens Universe Conference in Santa Cruz, which provides a week long program focused on the literacy works of Charles Dickens and other Victorian era authors.

Finally, recognizing the critical role that family support plays in a student’s academic success, NAI provides parents and caregivers with a range of programming to assist them in building a culture of academic excellence at home. Parents attend workshops focused on nutrition, wellness, financial literacy, communication, critical conversation, and strategies for fostering a supportive learning environment. Parents also learn about the college application process and receive assistance filling out financial aid forms.

Now in its 30th year of readying neighborhood students for college, NAI has a 100% high school graduation rate and a 99% college graduation rate. Graduates of the program enroll in prestigious institutions across the country. NAI Scholars have gone on to attend Harvard, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Stanford, and of course USC. Students who meet USC’s competitive admission requirements and choose. to attend receive a full-tuition scholarship for 4.5 years, as well as an allowance for books and fees. Since USC NAI’s first graduating class in 1997, approximately 43% of NAI graduates have attended USC as first year or transfer students. All NAI college students continue to receive support and advisement to and through their first undergraduate degeree.

Eastside Expansion

The USC McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative has completed its expansion in the east area of Los Angeles, and will culminate this year in its third cohort of seniors graduating to college. This year’s cohort of scholars in the east area will have doubled the number of scholars in college in their freshmen through junior years with almost 300 scholars. We continue to grow programming in the community surrounding USC’s Health Sciences Campus, with the intent of adding 100 additional scholars, grades 6th-12th over the next six years.

South and West Los Angeles Expansion

The USC McMorrow NAI program is also in the implementation stages to addd to our program in South Los Angeles and West Los Angeles, with the intent to grow strategically to include more African-American students and their families. We are in a formal partnership with to additional middle schools, Barack Obama Middle School and Audubon Middle School, as well as the elementary schools that feed into those schools. The program will co-locate our first cohort of NAI 6th graders in the Spring of 2023.

USC Educational Partnerships Family Resources


The USC McMorrow NAI program recruitment season kicks off in the spring of each year, when program representatives recruit at local elementary schools.  The program is open to students that reside in the neighborhoods surrounding USC’s University Park and Health Sciences Campuses, that will be attending Foshay Learning Center, El Sereno Middle School and Nightingale Middle School.  USC McMorrow NAI representatives hold recruiting presentations where applications to the program are distributed, however, schools are encouraged to send letters home to parents that are not able to take part in the presentations.  The USC McMorrow NAI application must be accompanied by the Student Criteria Sheet, filled out by a teacher, that indicates the student meets basic requirements.

Prior to being interviewed for consideration, students must meet the following selection criteria:

  1. A resident from the neighborhood
  2. Eligible to attend the following schools: Foshay Learning Center, El Sereno Middle School and Nightingale Middle School
  3. A 5th grade student getting ready to enter the 6th grade
  4. Most students are a C+ average
  5. Students must agree to attend all Saturday Academy sessions for seven years and parents must agree to attend the family development institute on Saturdays

Family Development Institute
Students are more likely to succeed in school when their parents or caregivers are involved in their education, the NAI Family Development Institute offers seminars for parents and guardians or advocates of NAI scholars. Topics are developed with input from parents, staff and teachers, and have included adolescent/child development, effective communication, creating a positive learning environment in the home, fostering educational success and conflict resolution, in addition to issues of special concern to parents of seniors, such as the college application process and financial aid.

For scholars to be eligible for the NAI scholarships, their parents must commit to attending 100 percent of these seminars, which meet on the University Park campus for three hours on Saturday mornings about 12 to 16  times a year. If parents are unable to attend due to work or other obligations, they may send an advocate – such as an aunt or uncle, grandparent, godparent, adult sibling, neighbor or friend who is involved with the child.

As part of the Family Development Institute, parents elect a leadership committee that meets bimonthly to coordinate communication with the group at-large. NAI parents also participate in field trips as well as in fundraising activities.

Retention Component

While the Neighborhood Academic Initiative’s primary goal is to get neighborhood students into USC with a fully funded financial aid package, the obligation doesn’t stop there. The Retention Component helps ensure that a student’s hard work getting into USC or another institution results in a degree.  This includes visits by USC McMorrow NAI staff, which travel to various campuses around the country to check in and make sure NAI alumni are on track to graduate from their respective institution.

Retention Component staff also offer supportive services to NAI alumni attending other universities or transferring from community colleges to four-year schools.


Kim Thomas-Barrios
Associate Senior Vice President, USC Educational Partnerships
(213) 743‑1591

USC Educational Partnerships is a proud partner of Stronger than Hate at USC


2019 USC NAI Gala

USC McMorrow NAI Class of 2020 Virtual Celebration and Awards Ceremony

Family and Friends Celebrate the USC McMorrow NAI Class of 2020

May the 4th Be with You event benefitting USC NAI

Download Media Clip Book here.

NAI In The News

May 2023

Neighborhood Academic Initiative gala celebrates graduating class of seniors

Trojan trailblazer lays the bricks for children’s path to college

USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative marks more than 1,500 graduating scholars since 1997

July 2022

A grandfather’s love drives Trojan to success

May 2022

CBS2: Highlights the 2022 USC NAI Gala

USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative comes back to campus in style

Family’s shared determination creates a path to USC

How one Trojan paid it forward all along the path to her USC degree

December 2021

USC steps up to help LAUSD students by providing teacher scholarships

September 2021

USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative graduates return to campus

June 2021

Inspired by her mother’s love, this young poet prepares for life as a Trojan

Neighborhood Academic Initiative graduation marks the end of Cáceres family journey

A seven-year journey ends for the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative’s most accomplished class

May 2021

May the 4th event brings in more than $1 million for USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative

Mark Hamill-led Star Wars Day celebration, which raised money for the USC McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative.

April 2021

Youngest son aims to be family’s first child with college degree, with some help from USC

Unsung heroes keep kids and families together in neighborhoods around USC

December 2020

To make online learning easier, USC’s college prep program gets tech-savvy

September 2020

St. Agnes Catholic Church, with USC help, distributes hope to residents of South L.A.

June 2020

Virtual gala celebrates 2020 grads of USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative

USC’s college access program helps its students transition to distance learning

May 2020

Long-aspiring USC student proves that dreams can come true

USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative’s 2020 grads celebrate on Zoom

Pandemic provides soon-to-be Trojan with career path possibilities

April 2020

USC-supported community network is ready to respond in South L.A.

January 2020

Neighborhood Academic Initiative students prepare for the next phase of their journey: college

December 2019

Local working families enjoy a holiday meal, thanks to Neighborhood Academic Initiative

July 2019

Los Angeles Sentinel: South LA Student Heads to Med School

May 2019

USC News: Donation of more than 4,000 books aims to promote literacy in USC’s neighborhood

USC News: Promising young scholars honored as USC high-school initiative celebrates its latest graduates

La Opinion: Obtiene la maestría en USC con el apoyo de la Iniciativa Vecinal para niños del sur Los Ángeles

Dornsife: A hit-and-run survivor earns her USC Dornsife degree

December 2018

USC News: USC interim president offers encouraging words at Neighborhood Academic Initiative visit

USC News: Community Benefits from Collaboration

October 2018

USC News: First-generation USC student models herself after those who helped her succeed

USC News: First Man screening, panel open world of opportunities for young scholars

September 2018

USC News: L.A. sixth-graders start their path to college on a red carpet at USC

May 2018

USC News: USC’s life-changing college-prep program for local youth receives transformative gift

February 2018
USC News: Nikias shares his own story and encouraging words with pupils in USC’s unique college prep program
Univision:Univision34 profiles USC’s commitment to sending local students in East LA and South LA to college.

September 2017
USC News: Foshay Learning Center provides more first-year USC students than any other high school
USC News: USC’s freshman class sets record: More first generation students than ever

June 2017
Marcus Wilson-Smith from KTLA’s post video of NAI interview: Today we got to talk with USC Trojans Senior Vice President of University Relations Thomas Sayles and graduates of the Usc Neighborhood Academic Initiative. #KTLA #

Photo courtesy of Marcus Wilson-Smith

May 2017

USC News: USC’s groundbreaking Neighborhood Academic Initiative honors 60 newest graduates

ABC7- Mark Hamill, stormtroopers help honor USC scholarship students

FoxNews Los Angeles: USC honors 60 graduates from Neighborhood Academic Initiative

April 2017
The New York Times: Lifting Kids to College

October 2016
Hoy (Spanish language media): Foshay sends more students to USC than any other high school

September 2016
Fox News Los Angeles affiliate KTTV-TV highlighted the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative and first-generation USC freshman Stephanie Cuevas. Cuevas graduated from Foshay Learning Center, a community school that was USC’s top feeder institute for the new freshman class. The story also included comments by USC Dean of Admission Timothy Brunold. Los Angeles School Report quoted USC Provost Michael Quick and NAI Director Kim Thomas-Barrios.

Chronicle for Higher Education: Highlights NAI’s parent engagement program

USC News: Sydney Turner has been preparing for USC since the sixth grade

CNN en español: Realidades en Contexto

Univision: Un programa educativo impulsa el talento de jóvenes

ABC-7: USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative bids farewell to 56 grad at annual gala 

USC News: USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative celebrates 25 years of college access

USC News: High-achieving, low-income students connect with USC

USC News: President honors leadership circle for life changing-generosity

USC News: Carnegie honors USC President Nikias with Academic Leadership Award

Communities: NAI in the news on first day of school

USC News: En honor a Mamá

ABC7: USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative honors young graduates

USC News: Scholars gala honors Joan Payden for Neighborhood Academic Initiative gift

USC News: Trustee’s gift widens the reach of USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative

USC News: Teens take pride in production of Jane Austen play

Diverse: University of Southern California Inviting Neighbors Over for Education

NBC-4: South LA Foshay Learning Center is among top 3 high schools that sent most students to USC this Fall 

KPCC 89.3: South L.A. high school grads win Charles Dickens essay contest

LA Times: Winning essays take 2 South L.A. students to Dickens conference

More NAI news

USC NAI Photo Galleries

2022 Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative Gala

2021 Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative Gala

2019 Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative Gala

USC Interim President Wanda Austin visits NAI

USC NAI: Trojan Space Pioneers

USC NAI Saturday Academy

2017 Neighborhood Academic Initiative Gala

2016 Neighborhood Academic Initiative Gala

2015 Neighborhood Academic Initiative Gala

USC NAI Scholars visit Univision

2013 Neighborhood Academic Initiative Gala

USC NAI Class of 2015

2012 Neighborhood Academic Initiative Gala

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“I’ve been to many, probably hundreds of universities across the country and I’ve never seen anything like [the NAI]. It’s the best example for a university engaging with its minority community in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding it … It’s truly amazing; I commend it. [Clinton] recommended I tell you about it.” -Henry Cisneros, former HUD secretary, at the Mexican American Leadership Initiative event honoring Hillary Clinton
November 9, 2013