Pictured above are the presidential scholars with Associate Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Dr. Danny Glassman, SF State President Lynn Mahoney, Ph.D., and Dr. Charles Ponce de Leon. Left to Right: Willy Soto, Dr. Glassman, Yatziry Palomo, Miranda Polorny, Alfonso Torres,Talia Israel, Claire Weeks-Young, Christian Suriben, President Mahoney, Dr. Ponce de Leon, Dr. Cristina Azocar
Originally funded with a $2 million endowment from the Osher Foundation and other donors, the Presidential Scholars program at San Francisco State University supports students in all colleges who demonstrate a high level of academic achievement, and have exemplary histories of service in their community and have financial need. Scholarships, which cover four years of tuition, housing, and medals are awarded to a cohort of freshmen every four years. For many of the awardees, higher education would not be financially possible without this comprehensive award. To those high school seniors who are selected, it is a significant draw, and a big factor in their choice to attend SF State over other colleges at which they have been accepted.
The current cohort of Presidential Scholars is now in their junior year. This year, the program has a new faculty advisor, Dr. Cristina Azocar, who is eager to contribute to the program. With a rich history at San Francisco State and a background in helping students navigate their lives and careers, Cristina was the ideal fit to lead the Presidential Scholars program. After receiving a B.A. in Journalism at SF State in 1993, she went on to earn her M.A. in Ethnic Studies in 1996, followed by a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Michigan in 2001. Cristina began teaching journalism at SF State in 2002, focusing on the intersection of race and journalistic practice that draws from her Native American background. In addition to being an associate professor, Cristina ran the Department’s Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism for more than ten years and was Chair of the Journalism Department for more than six years.
When Cristina heard that the Faculty Coordinator position for the Presidential Scholars program was available, she jumped at the chance to apply, attracted by the ability to directly impact students’ lives in such a profound way. “I know SF State students as a fellow student, as a faculty member, and as a chair,” she recounts. “The thing that I really loved about being a chair was helping students learn to navigate the problems and the hoops that you have to jump through in pursuing a degree. Leading the Presidential Scholars program was a way that I could continue to do all of that and more.”
The scholarship’s impact on students is often life-changing. “I would not have been able to attend a four-year university because of my financial situation, so the program granted me the option to pursue higher education,” says Alfonso Torres, a Presidential Scholar and student in the School of Cinema. Scholarship recipient Ocean Noah, who is currently studying English, shares Alfonso’s enthusiasm about the program, “As soon as I found out I won the scholarship, I hung up the phone and I started crying tears of joy. I called my mother and she cried too. We knew how much this would improve my quality of life,” says Ocean. In addition to opening a door to higher education, Alfonso feels that the scholarship gave him the confidence and wherewithal to explore other disciplines at the University. Now a Business Administration minor, he plans on pursuing a real estate license in addition to his Cinema degree.
“I would have never been able to realize that my passion for film can coexist with the practicality of business, had I not attended San Francisco State and seen such things in action.”
-Alfonso Torres, SF State Student and Presidential Scholarship recipient
Cristina’s plans for the future of the program include widely promoting the program to the Bay Area’s high school students. “We will be finalizing the scholarship application for the new round in the spring, and then in the fall that application will go out,” she says. She will also continue to focus on the present scholars, ensuring that they are scaffolded and receive help with academics, career guidance, and counseling so that they succeed in their studies and graduate next year.
Now in her third year as a Presidential Scholar, Ocean Noah remains enthusiastic and grateful for the opportunity to be in the program, “This scholarship is giving people, from whichever background they are coming from, the opportunity to learn and improve their lives on their own,” she relates. “There is no greater gift than this. If you want to make the world a better place, give someone the opportunity to learn. Watch them become a leader, and change the world.”