April 21, 2006

Diversity at UCSD a priority

Fiesta de las Estrellas raises funds for Latino students

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

When Ricardo Chavira, the star of “Desperate Housewives,” was a student at UCSD, he used to play the “Count the Mexicans” game.

“I would sit in the middle of campus and spend an hour counting all the Mexican students. Unfortunately, it would only be about four or five total, and many of them were ‘if’s.’ They might’ve been Middle Eastern. If they had the right tan, I would include them,” said a smiling Chavira, who plays “Carlos Solis” in “Desperate Housewives.”

From left to right: Actor Ricardo Chavira, UCSD student Adrian Gutierrez, and Robert Villarreal, from the UCSD Hispanic Scholarship Council.

Chavira returned to UCSD on Thursday, April 13, to receive the Alumni Excellence Award at Fiesta de las Estrellas, an annual event created by the UCSD Hispanic Scholarship Council to raise scholarship funds for stuents, while also recognizing the achievements of the local community “Estrellas” –outstanding San Diego leaders who are making a difference for Latinos.

Some of the other Estrellas this year include Jose Betancourt, a retired rear admiral who received the Excellence in Leadership award, and Irma Cota, CEO of North County Health Services, who received the Excellence in Healthcare award.

When Chavira graduated from the MFA program in Theater in 2000, he said he was the only Latino in the program.

Chavira, whose father is Mexican and mother is German/Irish, said that his family always emphasized the value of an education.

“Education wasn’t an option. It was something I knew since I was little that I would do it,” said Texas-native Chavira.

Although since he graduated from UCSD the percentage of Latino students has increased, there’s still a lot to do, he said. That’s the reason he supports events such as Fiesta de las Estrellas.

“It’s not giving back to the community. It’s just being part of your community. It’s about doing your part,” Chavira said.

Out of 20,679 total UCSD undergraduates in the fall quarter of 2005, 11 percent were Mexican American or Latino.

One of those students is Adrian Gutierrez, UCSD Junior and a Hispanic Scholarship Council Chancellor’s Scholar.

He’s studying mechanical engineering and attributed his success in the program to the scholarship.

“I don’t have to worry about getting a part-time job after school, so I can focus completely on my education,” said Gutierrez, who was born in Mexicali but moved to San Diego when he was just a boy.

He recommends Latino high school students to apply for every scholarship they can. “You need to take advantage of any scholarship out there,” he said.

Because when it comes to higher education, at least for him, financial aid made all the difference.

“Being Hispanic, we’re underrepresented in the UC system, or higher-level education for that matter, so I felt that even with the barriers that held me back –financial and ethnic—that this scholarship meant I could represent my ethnic group. I got into UCLA and Berkeley, but this scholarship was the main reason why I chose UCSD,” Gutierrez said.

Now in its ninth year, Fiesta de las Estrellas has raised nearly $600,000 to provide undergraduate multi-year scholarships that have changed the lives of 58 deserving students, such as Gutierrez.

Latinos receive the lowest average federal aid awards of any racial or ethnic group, according to a report released in August 2005 by Excelencia in Education and the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Latino students rely heavily on federal aid and on grants in particular, according to the report, given that they are more likely to be the first-generation college students (49 percent) and to have relatively low family incomes.

“Dollars raised at the annual Fiesta de las Estrellas event create educational opportunities for San Diego’s young Latino men and women who have great promise, but limited resources,” said Joseph Watson, vice chancellor of Student Affairs at UCSD. “This valuable program helps bright students with high financial need achieve their dream of a UCSD education.”

Robert Villarreal, member of the UCSD Hispanic Scholarship Council, said that although many big corporations such as Union Bank contribute to the fund, local Latino businesses need to become interested in the community’s education.

“It’s important for Latinos to help out.”

For more information about the UCSD Hispanic Scholarship Council, visit www.studentsupport.ucsd.edu.

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