Nearly seven years ago, Angela Sanchez wasn’t sure if she could finish high school. Today, the UCLA graduate student is positioning herself for a successful career in higher education administration with hopes of helping disadvantaged students —just like her —take control of their future.

Sanchez is one of five members of the UCLA family being recognized May 17 in Royce Hall in one of several campus events celebrating the launch of The Centennial Campaign for UCLA . Graduating from UCLA magna cum laude with a B.A. in history in 2013, she is currently a master’s student in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

Sanchez says that, without scholarship support, her life today would have been very different. Raising money for undergraduate student scholarships and graduate student fellowships is a prime objective of the Centennial Campaign.

“An investment in a student is something that pays tenfold,” said Sanchez, a UCLA Alumni Scholar who has earned numerous other scholarships and awards for research, academic excellence and community service, including the Chancellor’s Service Award, the UCLA Distinguished Senior Award, the Carey McWilliams Award for Scholarly Distinction and a Strauss Foundation Scholarship, to name a few. “There is no greater gift than education.”

In 2007, Sanchez was coping with the reality that she and her father were homeless after being evicted from their Glendale home on her 17th birthday.

There was no cake for Sanchez that day, and no candles. But there was a spark that remained deep within — one that couldn’t be extinguished even in her darkest moments.  Sanchez never wavered in her desire to do her very best in and out of school and to remain optimistic.

That life lesson is one that Sanchez now shares with students who are experiencing homelessness.

“Education has always been important to me because it represented a springboard out of my current situation,” said Sanchez, who eventually completed high school with a 4.23 GPA despite living in various motels with her father for nearly a year and in a shelter for another year.  In 2009, she was accepted to eight colleges and universities. Her first choice was UCLA.

In her sophomore year, she began doing educational outreach by establishing a UCLA chapter of School on Wheels Inc., an organization that tutors homeless K-12 students in more than 150 locations throughout Southern California. Having benefited from the services of this nonprofit during her last two years of high school, Sanchez knew the impact it could have on the lives of young people in Los Angeles.

Since 2010, UCLA members of Schools on Wheels have provided academic support and resources to nearly 100 K-12 students, who meet their mentors at homeless shelters, public libraries and other facilities.

Youths, no matter what  their financial situation or living condition, need to see that they are entitled to quality postsecondary education as much as anyone, said Sanchez, who, in addition to school and community service, also works as a graduate student researcher in UCLA’s Philanthropy Lab and a program coordinator at the Graduate Student Resource Center.

“I really enjoy advocating for education and being a voice for students who are normally overlooked,” said Sanchez, who now shares a home with her father in Highland Park in northeast Los Angeles and plans to pursue an advanced degree once she has completed her master’s.

“For students who come from backgrounds such as my own, who are often disadvantaged, underprivileged and overlooked, I’d like to see not only their acceptance, but their retention at universities,” she said.

 Sanchez can’t imagine her life without UCLA and the role it has played in shaping who she has become.

“You have to be able to go out there and chase your opportunities, and then the rest works out,” said Sanchez. “UCLA prepares its students in that respect. Being here, I’ve been able to realize that my tenacity can be applied in many different ways. It served to get me here, and I’ve since used my determination to bring other aspirations to fruition.”