Merced County Times

- Written by Yanira Ledezma. Read the full article here.


Central Valley Scholars, an organization built and run by Central Valley students, is offering scholarships to new students who are entering an undergraduate university during the 2020-2021 year.


The three scholarships, which will be awarded in increments of $1,000, are for students who fall into the catagory of being, undocumented, first generation, or identify as LGBTQ+.


“We want to make sure these students have the bridges to gain a higher education,” said Michael Piña, founder and president of Central Valley Scholars.


Piña started Central Valley Scholars, a student-run organization built on assisting underserved students in the Central Valley,  just last June. The 20-year-old student was born and raised in Kerman, California and is currently attending UC Berkeley.


“Originating from Kerman made me normalize the lack of resources that my community had in terms of getting access to higher education,” Piña explained. “When I left to Berkeley, that was the first time I was in a privileged space. I was in a classroom with students whose parents were engineers, lawyers, and doctors. Being in that space made me realize the lack of opportunity my community had.”


Here in the Central Valley, educational achievement rates are some of the lowest in all of California.


Piña believes this accounts to the lack of opportunity, guidance, and resources students receive, specifically those hailing from underserved and oppressed communities.

Piña identifies as queer and “latinx,” and is using his personal experiences to change outlook and opportunity in his communities.


“Home was always a homophobic and heteronormative space. It made it hard for me to love and feel accepted in my own home,” he said.


Central Valley Scholars mission is to accommodate students who come from different backgrounds and different types of identities. The scholars believe these students who are more than often overlooked by scholarship and educational opportunities deserve a rightful seat at the table.


“My goal was to not only bring workshops, online mentorships, and scholarships to these students, but also to create a progressive space in the Central Valley that recognizes students’ individual identities and individual needs and is willing to accommodate them,” Piña explained.


The six-month program first began by offering free workshops and online mentorships to students. These workshops focused on helping students apply to scholarships and universities, informed students on financial aid opportunities, and acted as the “helping hand” or bridge between students and the prestigious universities they were applying to.


“Besides being able to form connections with each other,” said Yadira Hernandez-Figueroa, the 19-year-old marketing and media director of the organization. “We are also able to bring back resources that we didn’t have before.”


The student-run organization believes in the power of bringing back knowledge they obtain at prestigious universities back to their communities in the Central Valley. Central Valley Scholars consists of team members who come from diverse backgrounds and identities and hail from different areas of the Central Valley. The scholars are proud advocators of people of color, the undocumented community, LGBTQ+ community, the disabled community, student parents, “womxn,” and community college students.


“The more you see, the more that you know,” Hernandez-Figueroa continued. “You begin to see all these needs that you didn’t before. Lack of scholarships being the first one.”


The scholars are excited to be introducing scholarship opportunities to students. The scholarships are open to first year students and transfer students entering an undergraduate university for the year of 2020-2021 and are worth $1,000 each. The three scholarships fall into the categories of: First Generation, LGBTQ+, and Undocumented.


Students are welcome to apply to all three scholarships if they identify as all three.


Scholarship requirements are as follows:

1. You must identify with the scholarship title.You must be an incoming student during the 2020-2021 academic year at an undergraduate university.

2. You must be a current resident in one of the following counties; San Joaquin County, Stanislaus County, Merced County, Madera County, Fresno County, Tulare County, Kern County, or Kings County.

3. You must originate from a community college, high school, continuation school, or nontraditional G.E.D school from San Joaquin County, Stanislaus County, Merced County, Madera County, Fresno County, Tulare County, Kern County, or Kings County.


Application requirements are as follows:

1. One required letter of recommendation.

2.One 650 word autobiography.

3. One 250 word goals and aspirations writing

4. Must be submitted by April 1st, 2020.


Applications can be found online at: centralvalleyscholars.org.


“When it comes to the autobiography, we are not expecting a formal type of writing-no, that’s not how we’re choosing recipients,” Piña explained. “We want students to really do a self-evaluation and look into who they are and where they come from.”


He further explained that when one dissects their own personal background, struggles, and identity — they are able to genuinely assess who they are as a person and reach a sort of self-identity that can at times feel self liberating.

The application deadline is April 1, 2020. A fundraising event is scheduled for June where scholarship winners will be recognized and awarded their scholarships.


For more information on Central Valley Scholars, you can visit their website at centralvalleyscholars.org, or email their team at: contact@centralvalleyscholars.org.

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