On Saturday, Jan. 28, approximately 200 people were on campus to attend the College is Possible town hall meeting sponsored by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) and Staples Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Staples office supply company. Intended to promote the importance of higher education for students and their families, the event provided participants with the opportunity to attend various bilingual presentations on topics such as preparing and paying for college, applying for college, and researching financial aid. During the event, Staples Foundation presented HSF with a check for $100,000 to support community outreach programming and to fund more than 20 Staples scholarships for Latino youth.
Jose Gutierrez, regional program director of HSF; Maria Elena Meraz, executive director of Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE); Eloy Gaitan, general manager of Staples in Cerritos; and David Gamboa, director of university government and community relations at CSU Dominguez Hills led the event and, in many respects, epitomized the possibilities available to Latinos who pursue a college education.
Gutierrez, a past HSF scholarship recipient who went on to get a master’s degree in counseling from San Francisco State University, said that being an HSF regional program director allows him to work side by side with universities and colleges to set up outreach events in communities and school districts. He said that giving back to the community and spreading the importance of education as well as supporting Latinos is what he enjoys about his job.
“When students leave an event, they mostly know what they want and feel worthy of scholarships,” Gutierrez said. “We have partnered with Cal State Dominguez Hills and they do a lot for students. I enjoy that CSUDH is diverse, has great distance, and a solid network.”
Meraz, who studied law at the Libre de Derecho in Culiacan, Sinaloa, has worked for 25 years at the non-profit PIQE, which is dedicated to teaching parents the importance of knowing how school districts work for their children’s sake. The organization provides nine-month workshops for parents in order for them to acquire the tools to enhance their children’s education.
She said that one thing she has noticed in her years working at PIQE is that Latinos tend to have a wait-and-see attitude instead of a belief that college is the next step for their children.
“There needs to be family support, and parents should not give their children the option of dropping out of college for a year to go to work,” Meraz said. “Students are the example to other family members and preparation in education can never be taken away from the person that obtained it.”
Gaitan has been general manager of the Staples in Cerritos for 11 years. The first person in his family to attend college, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin with an undergraduate degree in marketing.
“College is the greatest mirror. It’s going to look at you and let you know what you have to work on, what you will do better,” he said. “I’ve learned to persevere. It’s not something that I learned from a book but what I learned by going to college.”
Gamboa, who has been director of government and community relations at CSU Dominguez Hills since 2007, is also an alumnus, having graduated in 2004 with a degree in mass communications. He works with government officials and outside organizations to create opportunities that enhance the educational experience the university can provide its students as well as the community. He said the town hall was a perfect example.
“Collaboration with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and Staples Foundation to host this town hall meeting allowed us to not only connect with potential and current students but also connect them with organizations that contribute to the education growth of the campus,” Gamboa said.
Eduardo del Real, a senior at Carson Senior High School who has applied to CSU Dominguez Hills as an art major, was invited to the town hall by a fellow student. He said he wanted to gather information about scholarships and financial aid.
“I didn’t know about most of the scholarships that were available and I learned more about the terms of the FAFSA,” del Real said. “This event was helpful.”
– Reported by Jennifer Lopez, a freshman majoring in criminal justice and a student employee in the Office of University Communications and Public Affairs.