Michelle Perez — wife, mother of an autistic child, part-time hospital worker and UC Davis student — breathed a sign of relief: A $1,000 scholarship from the student government came at just the right time to pay for a summer course required for her major.
The Sacramento woman is among the 14 students that the Associated Students of UC Davis helped with its namesake scholarship last year, and the student government is launching a fundraising drive next week so it can help even more students in the future.
"It really makes a difference for students like me," said Perez, a biochemistry and molecular biology major, who is the first in her family to attend a university. "It makes a difference between us going to school and not going to school."
ASUCD created its scholarship endowment in 1999 with $50,000 in unrestricted reserves from its budget. Since then, the student government has put five percent of any surplus in its annual operating budgets toward the endowment. With other donations, the endowment, managed by the UC Davis Foundation, has grown to $300,000.
By June, the student government wants to raise an additional $50,000 for the endowment — from faculty, staff, alumni and former student leaders. ASUCD will match these contributions with up to $50,000 of its funds.
One of the first fundraising efforts will take place next week: The ASUCD is partnering with the Coffee House, a campus dining facility, to encourage faculty and staff to give a $1 when they pay for their food.
Donors to the ASUCD award endowment also can make gifts online.
ASUCD President Rebecca Sterling said even students who receive state or federal financial aid, like Perez, need additional support. "Students are struggling to even continue their education with the dramatically increasing financial burden it's become," she said. "In order to provide students with immediate and direct relief, we are initiating a matching fundraising campaign for the ASUCD Awards Endowment."
A committee of undergraduates evaluates scholarship applications based on high academic and/or athletic achievement, exceptional leadership and service, care for the environment, financial need, first-generation college attendance or personal hardship.
One of the things that makes this scholarship different, Sterling said, is the flexibility the committee has to recognize unusual circumstances.
For example, Perez's daughter needs special therapy. And her husband was without work for about two years after a heart condition disqualified him from driving an ambulance. (He recently got a job at a nursing home.)
During the regular academic year, the biochemistry course Perez needed is offered only in the afternoons, but that is when Perez, who wants to become a doctor, works as an electrocardiogram technician. And she wasn't taking enough summer credits to qualify for Summer Sessions financial aid.
The ASUCD wants to increase the size of the endowment so the interest it generates can fund more of the $500 to $1,000 scholarships.
In February, students launched a separate new fundraising initiative called “We Are Aggie Pride” to provide emergency financial aid to fellow students.
The student-led efforts are counted as part of The Campaign for UC Davis, the university's first comprehensive fundraising campaign, which is on target to meet its goal of inspiring 100,000 donors to contribute $1 billion in philanthropic support. As of Oct. 1, the campaign had raised more than $845 million from more than 93,500 donors for student scholarships and fellowships, faculty research, patient care, the total university environment and emerging opportunities across the entire university.