Saturday, December 3, 2016

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Undergraduate researcher Ellese Carmona, left, works with SDSU biology professor Kelly Doran. Undergraduate researcher Ellese Carmona, left, works with SDSU biology professor Kelly Doran.

SDSU Recruits Best and Brightest

A gift from Ben and Nikki Clay helps attract high-achieving local students.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

Ellese Carmona is a microbiology major, president of Scholars for Success and a 2012 graduate of San Diego State University on her way to Harvard University for a doctorate degree.
She is one of SDSU's best and brightest — an example of the increasing number of young Aztecs who achieve outstanding success as undergraduates.

But many other young San Diegans with tremendous potential as leaders and scholars are enticed away from this region by the generous scholarships and financial aid packages that better endowed universities can offer.

To counter this trend, SDSU President Elliot Hirshman is redoubling the university’s efforts to recruit and retain high-achieving local students.

“This strategy is critical to the university’s development,” Hirshman said. “San Diego’s high-achieving students contribute greatly to academic and student life; they raise the bar for everyone.”

Donor support

Donor support for scholarships is a key component of The Campaign for SDSU. Of the $311.5 million raised so far through the campaign, more than $37 million supports student scholarships and internships.

Scholarship funds pay for fees and books, support student researchers working in SDSU’s science and engineering labs, help students finance an international study experience and enable SDSU to expand the Guardian Scholars program, which provides 12-month room and board — plus academic mentoring — for students exiting the foster care system.

Beginning with the freshman class of 2012, SDSU will also use scholarship funds to attract high-achieving local students. It’s an approach endorsed by many loyal Aztecs eager to keep talented San Diegans in the region after graduation. Ben Clay, (’69), and Nikki Clay, (’67, ’72), are among the advocates.

“You have to own your territory; that’s good business,” Nikki Clay said. “So when the brightest San Diego high school students think about college, we need to be sure that SDSU is at the top of their lists and that scholarship money is available to them. If they move away, they may not come back.”


By providing scholarships to students, like the ones funded by Ben and Nikki Clay, SDSU is creating opportunities and enabling dreams for the next generation of leaders and innovators, a key initiative of The Campaign for SDSU. Learn more about how you can help fuel students’ potential.

The Aztec couple recently established the Ben and Nikki Clay Presidential Scholarship, a $300,000 endowment to support high-achieving local students. The endowment allows SDSU to protect and invest the Clays’ gift while distributing the interest to student scholarships.

 Among a key group of alumni who championed the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center, the Clays have also funded scholarships in their college, the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts.

“The president’s vision resonated with us,” Ben Clay said. “We’ve targeted our giving to an endowment aligned with his ‘best and brightest’ initiative. “We understand the importance of keeping bright young people here, contributing to the long-term success of the San Diego region.”