For students like Carla Guillen, a scholarship means more than an opportunity to attend college, it means a lifetime of opportunities—including the ability to make her childhood dreams of becoming a veterinarian come true.
More than $100,000 was recently raised for the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota First Generation Initiative (FGI)—an innovative program that ensures academic success for high-need, high-potential first-generation students. Guillen—a sophomore double majoring in biology: pre-veterinary science and Spanish—is one of 40 FGI Scholars enrolled at Saint Mary’s for the next academic year.
The FGI Initiative has two parts, a four-year summer college preparation program for middle- and high-schoolers called Countdown to College (C2C), and the FGI Scholars program, which provides programming and scholarship support for students who come to Saint Mary’s Winona Campus from partnering Lasallian and Jesuit high schools.
Saint Mary’s recently raised $100,000 via the university’s fifth annual FGI S.O.A.R. (Support, Opportunity, Accountability, and Responsibility) Breakfast, held at Saint Mary’s Twin Cities Campus in Minneapolis.
More than 110 people attended the fundraising-breakfast event where two FGI Scholars, Guillen—as well as 2016 graduate Martin Quintana—spoke about their experiences.
As a Countdown to College student, Guillen had an opportunity to apply for the FGI Scholars program and receive a full scholarship. She remembers the day she learned she received the exciting news that she had been selected for the Saint Mary’s FGI scholarship.
“It was after school when I came home and found a giant white envelope with the Saint Mary’s emblem on the front in my sister Daniela’s hands,” she said. “I remember feeling a hope rise in me, a hope that my dream of attending and making my goals a reality at Saint Mary’s would be true. But I also recall a part of me saying not to get my hopes up because it could also be a letter offering an apology and a ‘thank you’ for my interest. But that part of me left when I opened the envelope and read the word ‘Congratulations.’
“I cried. I sat down and cried. Daniela kept asking me if I had gotten the scholarship or not and all I could muster was a nod. I called my parents right away and they were so proud of me. I could not have asked for a greater feeling. I was on top of the world.”
Guillen credits the program for also providing her with a community of support. “Thank you for giving me this opportunity to make my family proud and make my dreams come true,” she said.
Saint Mary’s founded the FGI initiative in 2010, and positive results are reaffirming the program is headed in the right direction. Countdown to College has graduated four classes totaling 81 scholars; 100% have graduated from high school and 80% are enrolled in college. This summer Saint Mary’s will welcome 91 C2C students to Saint Mary’s Winona Campus.
The FGI Scholars program has graduated four classes, totaling 32 graduates. FGI Scholars have an 80% graduation rate within four years, which is 15 percent higher than the national average.
For more information about the First Generation Initiative at Saint Mary’s, or to support students like Guillen, visit smumn.edu/fgi.