Paola Sequeira faced an uncertain future when she was sent from her native Nicaragua at the age of 8 to live with her aunt and uncle in Brandon.
She came with her 6 year old sister Javiera and they only spoke Spanish. Her early years were overshadowed by tragedy – the death of her father Roberto Antonio Sequeira in an earthquake in Mexico and a plane crash in Managua that killed her brother and left her mother severely disabled.
But Sequeira made her way through her new life, excelled at school, and graduated first in her class from Brandon High School. She dreamed of becoming a doctor and took her first steps in that direction at the University of South Florida.
Today Dr. Paola Sequeira, 47, an endocrinologist who specializes in internal medicine at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center for Low Income Families.
Hers is one of hundreds of stories from Hispanic students with uncertain futures who attribute their accomplishments to a program that helped pay their way through the USF.
In the 30 years since it began, the Latino Scholarship Program has done more than just pay the bills. It has created a community of support that helps ensure success in life for its recipients.
The program connects fellows with mentors and offers a monthly professional development series that teaches skills such as resume writing, dinner etiquette, and networking.
“The feeling of solidarity that characterizes this scholarship grows every year,” said Sequeira. “You are like family.”
In September, the youngest and former winners were honored at the 30th Latino Scholarship Ceremony at the USF Marshall Student Center.
“It’s a beautiful initiative,” said Jose Valiente, chairman of the USF Foundation, which coordinates this and six other scholarship programs. “There are other similar programs in the country, but this scholarship is unique in that these days the scholars give back and share their successes with the community.”
Valiente said he understood the importance and implications of the program. He is a USF 1973 graduate in accounting who came from a low-income household and was the first in his family to attend college.
“USF’s Latino Scholarship Program reflects a key commitment to providing our talented Latino students with access to a world-class educational experience – not just through financial support, but also through mentoring and community engagement,” said Rhea Law, the university’s interim president , during the awards ceremony.
The Latino Scholarship Program pays a minimum of $ 2,000 per semester in tuition and fees and is renewable for up to 10 semesters.
Each year the program supports 40 new recipients and 100 returning recipients. In total, more than $ 4.2 million in scholarships has been awarded to more than 600 students. The money comes from donations, not from government grants.
The program is open to graduates from an accredited high school or community college in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, Pasco, Hernando, and Sarasota Counties.
The prerequisites are financial need, a grade point average of 3.0 and the completion of the free application for federal study grants. Special attention will be given to students who are fluent in Spanish and the first in their family to attend college.
The USF program may be unique among Florida universities for the community of support it provides, but many other financial support options are available to Hispanic students through public and private sources.
Seventy scholarships, up to $ 100,000 each, are advertised on one website, Stipendien.com. And one of the country’s largest programs is the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which has awarded $ 650 million in scholarships since 1975 and also offers a wide range of support services.
Hispanic high school graduates entering the University of Central Florida are automatically considered for a National Hispanic Scholarship, which is awarded to “recognize academic excellence” and is renewable for eight semesters.
Undocumented students are not eligible for the Latino On-Demand Scholarship Program, but may apply for performance-based grant offered by the USF Foundation, such as: B. Status of Latinos or SOL Scholarships.
Sequeira, who received a biology degree from USF and then graduated with honors from the University of Miami School of Medicine, was the first student to receive a scholarship when the USF Latino Scholarship Program was launched in 1992.
One of the youngest recipients is Eddy Antonio Santoyo, 20, of Tampa, who is hoping for a career in financial planning. Santoyo, a junior, is studying finance and studio art and is in his third year on a scholarship.
This means that he doesn’t need a full-time job to pay for school: “That helps because it enables us to progress in our studies and to achieve our goals.”
Santoyo’s parents, Carmen Cortes and Antonio Santoyo, came from the western Mexican state of Michoacán in 1996. From a young age, Santoyo had to watch his father struggle for a living as a construction worker who sometimes worked seven days a week.
“You have done everything to give us a better life, and I want to do that for my community,” said Santoyo.
His brother Alexis, 23, is also a past recipient of the Latino Scholarship. In 2019 he completed his studies in political science. The two are the first in their family to embark on a professional career.
“I am very grateful that I can focus on my future,” said Santoyo. “My responsibility is my studies and I want my parents to be proud of me.”