- Interview by Dennis Valera. Watch the video here.
Making it to a prestigious university can be hard for those from smaller Central Valley communities. It’s why non-profit Central Valley Scholars is working to level the playing field for them.
The non-profit has recently expanded their range of services.
Michael Piña is proud of his queer and Latinx identity, but the Kerman native has had trouble having his hometown accept that.
“I remember when I was applying to a scholarship and I was trying to share my queer experience,” Piña recalled. “They devalued it. They said being gay in the Central Valley isn’t an important identity.”
Feeling like the “other” would follow Piña to his studies at UC Berkeley. He felt his background didn’t help him prepare to find the resources that could help his higher education journey, like applying for financial aid and seeking academic counseling.
So, he decided to do something about it. Piña founded Central Valley Scholars in May 2019 and started things like workshops and mentorship programs to help share experiences of Central Valley students at college and universities like UC Berkeley.
The goal is to better prepare Central Valley students for the higher education experience.
The non-profit has grown with several board members — all with similar experiences to Piña.
“I think that it’s super important to see people like yourself to succeed in order for you to do the same,” said board member and Selma native Leslie Vasquez.
Some of the board members, like Vasquez and Ernesto Casillas, heard about Central Valley Scholars by word-of-mouth.
“We are a panel of a student from Central California that made it to a four-year university, so, we have first-hand experience,” said Casillas.
Central Valley Scholars just established three $1,000 scholarships for three particular students: an undocumented student, an LGBTQ+ student, and a first-generation college student.
“We just want students to tell us their story, tell us their identity…[tell us] what that means [to them],” Piña said.
You can click here for the Central Valley Scholars’ website. It has information about all their services and scholarships.
There’s also information about how you can help the organization.