Solving the Problem of Dwindling Financial Aid

Making sure students have what they need, when they need it.

As the president and CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, Mary Ann Gomez Orta ’89 has spent her career improving economic opportunities for people in Hispanic and Latin American communities. Now, she and her husband, Carlos, are taking aim at a problem that faces many university students in their last two years of college: dwindling financial aid.

“The junior and senior years are the hardest financially and your mindset is, ‘I’ve got to finish. I’ve got to get an internship. I’ve got to study abroad,’ Gomez Orta said. “So, for us, it was more about giving that student in their junior or senior year that extra push, that extra motivation, that extra support.” The Ortas have set up an endowment for juniors and seniors specifically for Hispanics from San Joaquin County who are in the College of the Pacific.

The idea sprung from Gomez Orta’s own experience. She is the daughter of San Joaquin County farmworkers and was the first in her family to go to college. In the beginning, there were many scholarships available, but as she progressed she says those opportunities dwindled.  She earned her BA in communication, but many other students become discouraged.

“Students start to give up because they don’t have the same (scholarship) amount, or maybe their grades weren’t good enough to keep the scholarship they had originally,” Gomez Orta said.

Stockton native, Daniel Gonzales ’21, came to Pacific through the Community Involvement Program to study history. He works part-time at a fast-food restaurant to pay his personal expenses and has scholarships to help cover tuition.

“I really wouldn’t be here without the scholarships I got,” he said. Gonzales admits that paying for his last two years is a source of stress for both himself and his mother.

“My mom is probably my biggest supporter in going to school, so anything I need to pay for Pacific, she tries to figure out,” he said.

Allison Dumas, director of Pacific’s Community Involvement Program, said Gonzales’ story is not unusual. Hispanic students often face additional challenges because many have to work while they go to school to help support their families.

Dumas believes attracting and keeping this demographic at Pacific is important for maintaining a campus that reflects the racial and cultural richness of society at large.

“We learn so much from our students, and Pacific is so much richer because of the diversity that our students bring─ the values, the behaviors, the culture all of the things that enhance our campus,” she said.

Gomez Orta and her husband have created a challenge for Pacific’s Day of Giving. Each of the first 50 gifts to the College of the Pacific will be matched with a $1,000 gift to the Gomez Family Foundation Scholarship.

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