A path to success

Several Portland State students were recognized for their academic achievements, receiving scholarships this past weekend at the Portland Convention Center at an annual gala for PSU’s Annual Chicano/Latino Scholarship program.

Several Portland State students were recognized for their academic achievements, receiving scholarships this past weekend at the Portland Convention Center at an annual gala for PSU’s Annual Chicano/Latino Scholarship program.

Thirty-one Hispanic PSU students were awarded between $1,000 and $5,000 in annual scholarship funds at the gala, now in its 11th year. The scholarships were paid for by contributions from local businesses and ticket proceeds from the event.

While not technically a part of PSU’s Chicano/Latino Studies department, the event and its scholarships are supported by the department and give assistance to students in academic fields across the university.

Maria Alanis Ruiz, Portland State’s director of Latino student relations who also organizes the gala, said the scholarships help students stay in school and graduate on to successful careers.

“These are average students who just need a little bit extra, and for them it is a blessing,” Ruiz said. This year, dollars given to students have reached an all-time high, she said.

Ruiz, a former admissions counselor and faculty member at PSU, brought the idea to Marvin Kaiser, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1996. The following year, the first gala was held in the Smith Memorial Student Union ballroom, raising enough money for two scholarships for Latino students. 200 people attended the inaugural gala.

Three years later, Ruiz had to move the gala to the larger convention center to accommodate the more than 500 people wanting to attend. Originally she had planned for the event to be a fund-raiser for corporate donors, she said, but then faculty, family members and other students wanted to come.

Kaiser said that without Ruiz, the program would not have begun.

“She’s been a relentless champion of finding sponsors-both people and organizations-who believe in creating opportunities for our students,” Kaiser said. Kaiser also said he has attended the gala every year, and wouldn’t think of missing such a major event.

In addition to the gala’s traditional dinner and dancing, this year’s event featured two celebrity speakers, Eddie Martinez and Gregory Nava. Martinez is a professional musician who has played with Tina Turner and Cher. Nava directed and produced several movies and miniseries.

Students receiving the funds appreciate a chance to celebrate their achievements and take a break from hectic work schedules, said Antonio Felipe Asunción, a 27-year-old junior and scholarship recipient.

Asunción is working on a communications and Spanish double major, and works full-time as an assistant manager at a Sellwood restaurant to pay for his full-time classes.

“I felt so confident going up there to receive my award,” Asunción said. “I could see myself up there at the podium one day, and I wondered what message I would have for students.”

Getting the financial help lets him spend more time on studying, he said.

“I’m so grateful that PSU offers such an ideal scholarship. It gives me some relief,” Asunción said.

Senior Alma Morales-Galicia, 20, has received the scholarship assistance for three years, and is close to graduating.

“Getting a scholarship from the Chicano/Latino department makes it a little bit more personal for me,” said Morales-Galicia, who is currently pursuing a double major in general management and human resources and a minor in French.

“Getting this scholarship has really taken some of the pressure off of me,” Morales-Galicia said.

Gala founder Ruiz said that is what she hopes to see in the recipients. She said that she is proud of the students who work hard to stay in school even though they cannot afford it.

“We have students who can’t stay in school because they can’t pay their rent,” Ruiz said, and referred to a few students who could say in school due to their scholarships.

She attributes the generosity of donors for much of the program’s success, and uses the gala as an opportunity to thank them.

Since its inception in 1997, more than 250 Hispanic students, ranging in age from 18 to 96, have received scholarships, totaling over $200,000. Major corporate sponsors include the Oregon State Lottery, Point West Credit Union and State Farm Insurance.

“The sponsors have been very good to us,” Ruiz said. “Every year, they come through.”

The tickets this year were $100 per person for corporations and $75 for individuals. Corporate tables cost $1000.

“I think a lot of private companies support this because these scholarships really open up doors for students,” said Morales-Galicia. “It is just amazing that they can do this for us.”