First-gen college hopefuls from Sacramento earn scholarship aid

By Brooke Purves

Three Sacramento-area high school juniors who are rich with drive but short on resources will get help with the latter, courtesy of a scholarship program that zeroes in on students who are among the first in their families to blaze the college path.

Kiera Alexander of Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, Marina Zambrano of Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento and Maddie Reichmann of Galt High School were among five total students selected from the region as 2014 Buck Fellows by the Buck Scholars Association, a group of 282 Frank H. and Eva B. Buck Scholarship recipients.

Selectees will receive one-on-one mentoring, academic guidance and financial support for enrichment opportunities.

The fellowships are awarded to students who demonstrated substantial academic promise and personal character, but face barriers to realizing their long-term educational potential.

Rei Onishi, president of the BSA and co-founder of the Buck Fellows Program, said the program assists students who don’t have adults in their support system who have been through the college experience or work in their chosen fields of study.

“Who are the people in their network?” Onishi said. “Who had gone to college?”

Already in contact with their mentors, the three Sacramento students can finally answer those questions affirmatively.

While Alexander looks forward to working more intimately with her mentor on college preparedness, “Right now, it’s stress relief,” she said. “It’s really easy to just relax and just talk to her.”

The Fair Oaks junior struggles to balance her intense homework load with the antiquated technology she has at home, where she lives alone with her dad. Alexander said she’s started handwriting some assignments to save on the cost of printing her homework at Kinko’s.

Zambrano works summers to pay part of her private school tuition, and cares for her infant sister when her parents work in the evenings. “My family isn’t very financially stable,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of resources.”

Zambrano understands that, while it helps to have a little extra money to pay for educational opportunities, it’s also important to know people in your field. “It’s all about networking,” she said. “[My mentor] gives me hope that I can make it.”

Reichmann said she feels fortunate to have a mentor to guide her through the process of preparing for college entrance exams, applications, college life and eventually a career as an agricultural science teacher.

“I just want to have purpose, do something for the better, rather than do something just because,” she said. “[There are] people out there who say, ‘You’re a cool person,’ and want to invest something in you.”

All of the funds for the program come from private donations and fundraising efforts by BSA members, who received full-ride Buck scholarships from the Buck Foundation, which is closing December 2015. Onishi said the “next phase is to reach beyond that,” with support coming from outside the organization.

“We wanted to keep that going for a new generation,” Onishi added.

The Buck Foundation and the BSA serve Frank H. Buck’s former U.S. Congressional district, comprising Yolo, Sacramento, Napa, Solano, San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties. Buck served from 1932 until he died in 1942. The foundation and association are separate entities.

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