Courtesy of CSUEB
David Balderas stands outside the home of an alumna, who is one half of the pair that created the Save Our Students (SOS) Scholarship Fund at Cal State East Bay. The pair hosts an annual brunch, bringing together students and donors to meet face to face.
Unsure if he should go in yet since the other students haven’t arrived, Balderas is anxious to meet the two women who are making it possible for him to stay in school and finish his nursing degree.
Balderas’s dad died last year from cancer, leaving behind five children. Being the breadwinner, his absence left the family struggling to make ends meet.
“Having the assistance from the scholarship will help me focus on studying,” Balderas said.
He’s exactly the kind of person the SOS scholarship targets. Since 2011, the fund has enabled 104 students in danger of dropping out of school for financial reasons to stay on and graduate.
Alumnae Luanne Rotticci (BS ’87, Business and Kinesiology) and Liza Jane MacNaughton (BA ’90, Spanish) started the scholarship fund with their own money after they saw how budget cuts and tuition increases affected students.
“We just thought it was ridiculous what students had to pay for education,” MacNaughton said. “When we went to Cal State [East Bay], the cost was virtually nothing. We couldn’t stand the idea that people were dropping out because they couldn’t afford to stay.”
Vichelle Nelson, an ethnic studies student and one of this year’s SOS scholarship recipients, is grateful for the boost.
“I am so glad there are people out there who still have a heart to give, people who want to see others educated and going for their dreams,” Nelson said. “I want to get out of school with the least amount of debt possible, so this scholarship will go to that end. It’s perfect for me.”
Rotticci and MacNaughton say their reward for giving is getting to meet the students. They love hearing how the money will be spent and learning about each student’s background and aspirations.
“It started with just helping a few people,” Rotticci explained. “The idea is to do more and more and more every year.”
Rotticci and MacNaughton have reached out to friends and fellow alumni to add to the fund, which issues $1,400 scholarships to multiple students annually.
“We want to keep getting more people involved,” Rotticci said. “The thing that we struggle with is how to make alumni realize that just a small donation can make a big difference. It doesn’t have to be a thousand dollars or even a hundred dollars, anything makes a difference.”
Balderas said he’s learned the hard way how far a little bit can go, whether it is money or simple kindness. He is the first person in his family to go to college. It’s something he says was important to his late father.
“He was the main person who motivated me to get a good education and pursue what I wanted to do,” Balderas said. “Even though he’s no longer here with us, I want to keep my promise to him that I will finish school.”