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Friday, June 2, 2023

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SDSU sophomore Laci Virgilio said without scholarship support, she very well may have dropped out in her first year of college.

Maximizing Potential

Financial Need Spurs New Scholarship Drive
By Gina Jacobs

The economic downturn has upended the lives of countless Americans, and the families of San Diego State University are no exception. While many struggle to pay the bills, the state is slashing higher education budgets and the cost of attending college continues to rise.

Students face a financial conundrum – they need financial assistance more than ever, but there is less scholarship money available from California’s universities.

So, SDSU is going public with an appeal for funds –called FuelPotential – to finance student scholarships.

“It’s all about potential,” said Mary Ruth Carleton, vice president for University Relations and Development at SDSU.  “Without financial support, many students will be unable to pursue higher education, and the potential contributions of these incredibly bright minds may be lost forever.”

Scholarship applications at SDSU have doubled over the past five years. Last year, 11,200 students applied for a scholarship, but only 2,540 scholarships were awarded.

This year’s 4,089 first-time freshmen, scheduled to begin classes at SDSU on Monday, Aug. 31, will be hard hit by the economic squeeze. The incoming class is one of the most diverse – ethnically and economically – in SDSU history and one of the most academically impressive, with an average 3.46 high school grade point average.  

But their financial needs are not any less severe. More than half of SDSU’s students rely on some kind of financial aid and that number is steadily increasing, according to SDSU’s Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships.  

“Every dollar invested in scholarships makes a critical difference to our students by enabling access and preparing leaders for tomorrow,” Carleton said.

The tools they need

For Laci Virgilio, the scholarship she received as a freshman at SDSU made all the difference in the world.
“Without scholarship support, I would not have done nearly as well in my classes,” said Virgilio. “If I’d had to balance work and a full class load, I think eventually I would drop out.  I’d much rather put all my effort into studying and learning than dividing my time between work and school.”

Now a computer engineering major, Virgilio is amassing the skills, knowledge and confidence to pursue a graduate degree and an engineering career.
Virgilio grew up in the foster youth system and receives about $1,500 each semester in scholarships from both the Guardian Scholars program and the Conrad Hilton Foundation through the Educational Opportunity Program.  

While the federal financial aid pays her tuition, the scholarships fund books, supplies, transportation to and from campus, and this year, a laptop computer.

“These are the tools you need to be a successful student,” Virgilio said.  “If I didn’t have them, my grades would definitely suffer.”

A full plate

Karina Kangas
Chemistry junior Karina Kangas received a Maximizing Science Potential scholarship to help fund her undergraduate education.
SDSU junior Karina Kangas has a lot on her plate, balancing her chemistry major and English minor and research load with her family life as a mom and wife.  

At 19, Kangas has found her niche working in SDSU’s electro-chemistry lab. She could not imagine college life without scholarship support.

“I don’t know how I would have done it,” Kangas said. “I am very thankful for the support; it has helped out in so many different ways.”

Kangas’ scholarship is from the Sweetwater Foundation, which supports students from the Sweetwater Union High School District who successfully complete SDSU’s Compact for Success program.  The scholarship will pay her full tuition for four years.  She also received the Maximizing Science Potential scholarship for minority students studying in a science field.  

Kangas’ dreams for her young son drive her to work hard and succeed.  

“I hope that he knows that I am doing this so that I can eventually afford to provide him with a good education as well.”

Giving back

Neither Kangas nor Virgilio sees their scholarships as free money. Both believe in giving back to their communities.  Virgilio will be mentoring new Guardian Scholars who grew up in the foster youth system and Kangas regularly volunteers as a guest speaker for the MESA Engineering Program and Compact for Success.

“I want to show that I am willing to work hard for this so I volunteer and stay involved on campus,” said Kangas.

The FuelPotential scholarship campaign seeks to raise funds for both the general scholarship fund, as well as scholarships for specific areas of study.

SDSU alumnus Steve Davis recently contributed $100,000 to scholarships supporting accountancy and SDSU’s student veterans.

“I believe education is the answer to many of our region’s challenges, and opportunities,” said Davis, who graduated from SDSU in 1979 and is now Vice President of Communications and Community Partnerships with Sempra Energy.

“For me and my family, it’s really gratifying to help students who hold such great promise.”