As a first-generation college student, Antonia Sanchez was still getting her bearings at UCLA when she ran out of scholarship money for textbooks and art supplies.
Her parents, both field workers in the agricultural community of Soledad, help her with money to pay for housing, but she knows it isn’t easy on them. She hopes to return to the community as an art teacher, bringing arts education back to schools where budget cuts have stripped it away. But when money got tight, Sanchez decided to focus on her general education requirements and reluctantly planned to postpone her art classes until she could afford new materials and lab fees.
Then she got an email.
“I saw I had a new financial aid notification, and it was a new $1,500 scholarship,” Sanchez said. “I read it over like, ‘wait, what?’ I felt such surprise and relief. It’s helped me so much with buying art supplies and books.”
The Ruth Anne Kenney Centennial Scholarship came along right when Sanchez needed it. For Sanchez, like many other UCLA students, a scholarship doesn’t have to cover full tuition to make a pivotal difference. The scholarship was created as part of the recently completed Centennial Campaign in honor of UCLA’s 100th year. Sanchez’ scholarship was one of many funded as part of the Chancellor’s Centennial Scholars Match initiative, which increased her scholarship by half. The campaign brought in $665 million in student support, providing much-needed assistance to thousands of students.
“For next quarter, I was planning on taking photography or ceramics, and at first I couldn’t because of the lab fee, but because of the scholarship I don’t have to put it off,” Sanchez said. “With the scholarship, I feel less stressed. I have more options. Sometimes to get art supplies, I need transportation to go to the art store, and if there’s no bus, it’s hard. Now it’s easier to go places without it being a financial burden.”
All that lets her focus more on her studies, as well, she added. It’s still a lot of work and stress, but her parents’ example drives her to give it her all.
“My parents are field workers,” Sanchez said. “I see how tired they get by the end of the day. I’m often exhausted by my workload, and sometimes I’m tired from studying. But then I think of my mom and dad, and they inspire me to work harder.”
Like Sanchez, nearly a third of UCLA undergraduates are first-generation college students, and more than 35 percent of undergrads receive Pell Grants, federal financial aid for students from low-income families. Thanks to financial aid and scholarships, 45 percent of undergraduates pay no tuition at all, and many receive multiple smaller scholarships that significantly improve their college experience.
Artist and UCLA lecturer Victor Estrada met Sanchez when she took his introductory painting class.
“She was very dedicated, coming outside of class time to work on her paintings,” Estrada said. “It’s very important that students like her get scholarship support, because without that, you cut down on the diversity of the student body and the diversity of voices, knowledge and experiences at UCLA. A diversity of voices is important. It makes art better, enriches the cultural dialogue, and creates an inclusive culture in which people can recognize themselves.”
Art shapes how people identify themselves, which means it needs to represent more perspectives, Estrada emphasized.
“She’s a first-generation college student from a farming community in Central California, and we need voices like hers,” Estrada said, noting that his own family came from Mexico, and he struggled sometimes to relate to his classmates. “Art helps enlarge our understanding of the diversity in our greater national culture, and the narrative about where we’re going, especially in the face of this current counter-force that seems to want to take us back to this mythical, more restrictive past.”
Though Sanchez is majoring in art, she plans to add minors in education and Chicano Studies to help her become a teacher.
“In high school, I was part of a program called the Girls Leadership Network, and we talked about how our schools didn’t have enough funding for things like art or photography classes because those are the first ones that get pulled for funding,” Sanchez said. “That made me want to become an art teacher so I can provide that service and give back to the community where I’m from.”
When she heard about the new scholarship, she immediately called her dad. Even though she interrupted his workday with a video call, she said, he was beaming.
“I was so proud of her when she got this new scholarship,” said her father, Hector Sanchez. “From a very young age, she was responsible and cared about others. When she received all her awards at her high school graduation, I cried because of the sacrifice she made to earn them. I am thankful to God she is getting scholarships because of her hard work and sacrifice. Antonia getting accepted to UCLA inspired me to be a better father, and I’m so grateful she has this opportunity.”