SIS scholarship winners make their parents proud

Ana Herrera (left) and her father Jose Luis Herrera show the range of emotions after they heard Ana won a Students Inspiring Students scholarship to GCU.

Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Mathew McGraw
GCU News Bureau

Students Inspiring Students Scholarship announcements are set up for surprise, often leading to squeals of delight.

But for some recipients it’s a quiet, sincere moment of thanks.

“I will not let you down, and I hope not to let my family down,” Ana Herrera told the gathering of SIS leaders and students during the first of two award announcements at Grand Canyon University.

She gently touched her father sitting next to her and said: “I will be making my mom proud.”

Her father’s eyes became moist. Ana's mother was not there.


Megan Serafini, the scholarship program’s director, dropped the announcement to each of the 10 SIS winners April 27 and again Tuesday after they sat before a panel of students in what they thought was an intense interview, with microphones, cameras and lantern lights before them.

After several rounds of questions, she announced the surprise: “You got this scholarship!”

Noemi Caballero Rodriguez (right) reacts to the announcement with mom Noemi Rodriguez.

They had just earned a full-tuition scholarship to GCU, awarded to high-achieving students from low-income nearby neighborhoods.

Noemi Rodriguez both laughed and cried for joy. She’s the mom of Noemi Caballero Rodriguez of Phoenix Coding Academy. Her family had moved back and forth between Mexico and Phoenix three times before settling for good in Phoenix when Noemi was in seventh grade so their only child could work toward a higher education.

“It means my dreams. It means my parents’ happiness. It just means everything,” her daughter said afterward. “I’m a first-generation and my mom wanted to go to college to be a teacher, and she didn’t have the resources back in Mexico. Having me as her daughter being able to even go to college meant something really big for her.”

Noemi’s dad works in construction and is helping build The Rivers, the new GCU residence halls scheduled to open in the fall.

Other recipients from the neighborhood had driven past the expanding University through the years, and it was like a vision of the future. Reynalda Sanchez often pointed it out to her daughter in the passenger seat and said: “I want you to go to GCU.”

Now Jasmine Sanchez of Independence High School can not only drive past but join the 368 students who have been awarded SIS scholarships — and perhaps one day join the 93 who so far have graduated with degrees.

They are students with big goals.

“I want to save people’s lives,” said Valeria Aguilar, who hopes to be a medical professional.

Aguilar also wants to set an example for her younger sister and brother to study hard and follow in her footsteps to GCU. “I’m enforcing it, too,” she said.

Valeria Aguilar (right) and mom Alma Medina Leon react to the SIS scholarship.

They were emotional for many reasons.

“I know you have other families that need this,” Leslie Valdovinos of Glendale High School tearfully told the group.

She later said her family didn’t have the money for her to go to college, and now she can. Yet when she addressed the group, she was thinking of all the people in her neighborhood who would benefit from the same chance she just got.

“Everyone has dreams but not everyone is able to go on without the money, so I am just super grateful to be able to fulfill my dreams,” she said. “I want to help those in need because my major will be in counseling.”

The song “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang played as each was given the news that their dreams were now real.

Monique Wallace (right) and mom Suzette Glenn celebrate the news.

Monique Wallace of Moon Valley High School wants to become a veterinarian.

“Animals have always helped me growing up, and I want to give back,” she said. “Mentally and emotionally I struggled a lot, and they helped. They were emotional support animals and were protective of me, and I always felt safe.”

Now, said her mother Suzette Glenn, she can go to college without adding financial stress.

For Ana Herrera of North High School, the meaning was even more profound to her – and father Jose Luis Herrera.


Herrera learned hard work from her mom, Anabel, she said. “She always pushed me to continue to do whatever I’m determined to accomplish -- to go for it.”

She shared with her mom a goal to become an occupational therapist, inspired by trips to physical therapy with her cousin, who has a disability and lives with the family.

Ana Herrera is tearful after hearing of her scholarship.

Her mom wasn't there to hear the good news or give her a hug.

“She passed away due to COVID last year,” Herrera said.

“But now with this I know that she is proud and is looking down on me and is so happy.”

Herrera helped her father form his fingers into a “Lopes Up” for a photograph that included her brother David, who also goes to GCU through an SIS scholarship.

“I felt not depressed but sad,” Jose said of the past year of loss. “Now I feel proud of my kids.”

Ana’s scholarship will honor her mother, but it’s helping her father through his grief.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Paola Villegas, Washington High School

Noemi Caballero Rodriguez, Phoenix Coding Academy

Ana Herrera, North High School

Jasmine Sanchez, Independence High School

Valeria Aguilar, Bioscience High School

Monique Wallace, Moon Valley High School

Leslie Valdovinos, Glendale High School

Giovanna Barraza Reyes, Carl Hayden High School

Alexis Campbell, Glenview College Prep

Jocelyn Garcia Lopez, Metro Tech High School


Related content:

GCU Today: SIS scholarships provide hope to more families

GCU Today: SIS scholarships change lives of 16 more families

GCU Today: Her job shows how SIS scholarship program works


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

David said to Michal, "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when He appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel — I will celebrate before the Lord. (2 Samuel 6:21)

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