Zoe Morgan/Town Crier Nisha Sharma tickets a car in downtown Los Altos. The 2014 Los Altos High School graduate works for both the Mountain View and Los Altos police departments doing parking enforcement. She credits much of her current success to the mentorship she received from MVLA Scholars during high school and college.

Nisha Sharma works at both the Mountain View and Los Altos police departments doing parking enforcement and plans to apply to be a full-fledged police officer in the next few years. She credits much of her success today to the support she received from MVLA Scholars. “If MVLA Scholars wouldn’t have been there, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Sharma said.

The nonprofit organization provides local low-income students with mentors throughout high school and college, as well as college scholarships.

When Sharma first came to the United States from India in ninth grade, there was a lot stacked against her. However, with help from MVLA Scholars, she graduated from UC Santa Cruz last year and is pursuing a career in law enforcement.

From the time Sharma was young, she knew she wanted a career that would help people get justice. Seeing the high rate of violence against women and girls in India inspired her to act.

“People need justice,” Sharma said. “These women who have been through so much, they need justice.”

At first, she thought she would become a lawyer, having seen lawyers on television as a child.

But once she came to the United States, Sharma said she saw police officers out in the community, proactively helping people and connecting them with resources, something she hadn’t experienced before.

After finishing freshman year in the East Bay, Sharma began her sophomore year at Los Altos High School, which she said was more academically rigorous than she had experienced before.

Sharma got into the school’s AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program her junior year, which aims to prepare students, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college, for success at four-year universities.

A fellow AVID student told her about the Mountain View Police Department’s Police Explorers program, which enables students to experience firsthand what a career in law enforcement is like.

“I had such an amazing time at my first meeting, I just never looked back,” Sharma said.

As part of the program, she got the chance to go on ride-alongs, help out at community events and learn about different law enforcement jobs.

College bound

It was also through AVID that she began receiving help from MVLA Scholars, which provided mentors to guide her through the college application process. She got help completing college applications and applying for scholarships.

In the end, she was accepted at UC Santa Cruz and had enough scholarship money to cover the full cost of attendance without any loans.

Once at college, MVLA Scholars assigned her another mentor to continue providing support.

“They were really good at keeping track of students and making sure we were on the right track,” Sharma said of the organization. “The mentors were really good.”

As the first in her family to attend college in the United States, Sharma said it was helpful to have someone guide her through the process.

Tucker Stanwood, a local retired lawyer, was her mentor throughout college. Stanwood said he was impressed by Sharma’s determination and skill at researching resources to cover the cost of college.

“She was very thorough,” Stanwood said. “She had more first-year scholarships than anyone we’d heard of.”

During college, Sharma continued on the path to a career in law enforcement. She worked for the college’s police department for three years and interned at both the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in the Crime Strategies Unit and the U.S. Secret Service in San Jose.

Path after graduation

After graduating from college in June 2018 cum laude with a bachelor’s in sociology, Sharma began working in parking enforcement for the Mountain View Police Department.

Although giving parking tickets is often a stressful job, Sharma said it is teaching her the skills needed to eventually be a police officer.

“Nobody likes us because we write parking cites, but I like it because it gives me a way to see how to interact with the public, how to talk with them,” she said.

Sharma has learned how to de-escalate situations when people get angry, and to calmly explain what a ticket is for.

In May, Sharma also began working for the Los Altos Police Department doing parking enforcement.

Although she plans to be a police officer, Sharma wants to travel and have broader life experiences before settling into a full-time career.

Her plan is to begin applying to be an officer around age 25.

Regardless of what her future holds, Sharma said she continues receiving support from MVLA Scholars, with mentors and other staff still reaching out.

“They don’t give you up after you’re done,” she said. “They’ll still keep in touch with you; they’re really good about that. It’s just like a family.”

For more information, visit mvlascholars.org.