It's all about the family for SIS scholarship winners

Families had emotional reactions Tuesday and Wednesday nights to winning a Students Inspiring Students scholarship. (Photo by Alan Cisneros)

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

They brought along brothers and sisters, little ones in dresses and pressed shirts, or older ones who draped their arms around sibling shoulders at the big moment.

The scholarship interviewees and family members sat before panelists to make a last pitch to earn the Students Inspiring Students Scholarship to Grand Canyon University.

Often, the brothers and sisters spoke up for them.

“Compared to me, she is better,” said Henry Nguyen, an older brother to Kim Nguyen and a GCU graduate and SIS scholar. “I say she deserves this scholarship.”

Mireya Chavez Cruz, left, with sister Yesenia.

Mireya Chavez Cruz intently listened to her older sister, who got choked up.

“We are a group of six children, and my parents couldn’t make it here today,” said Yesenia Chavez Cruz. “I started working at 13. Our parents tried to help us, but we didn’t want Mireya to start working. She was the only one to have honors.”

The sisters walked out together, led by SIS leaders and students, to what they thought was a tour of a campus building, only to round the corner and be surprised by music, signs and cheering, congratulating them on winning the scholarship.

The 31 scholarships awarded on Tuesday and Wednesday at GCU were added to 35 already announced as winners of a full tuition award that goes to high-achieving students from low-income nearby neighborhoods.

As scholarship winners hugged family members outside the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Building on campus, Yesenia described going to work as a waitress while her father worked for more than two decades as a restaurant cook.

“It’s nice knowing that one of us out of six can achieve this,” she said.

Kim Nguyen, second from left, with her brother Henry and family members.

Mireya wants to study social work and help young children in tough situations. “I can sense how those kids feel -- hopeless -- and I want to give back to them.”

Family pride was abundant on Tuesday night.

Henry Nguyen was asked afterward why he spoke so passionately about his sister.

“She is more than me; her hard work is more than I ever put in during high school,” said the April GCU graduate, who landed a marketing job soon after.

Kim Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam, said she badly wanted to go to GCU. “I saw how lives changed for my brother and other students as well.”

Arianna Torres, left in back, with her siblings and parents.

Arianna Torres’ three younger siblings sat by her side at the interview and heard her say that they all are a part of her.

Her brother Javier, 13, has her sense of humor, sister Isabella, 11, her athleticism and sister Natalya, 6, her playful spirit, she said. Her mother said she is an example to them all.

“She made a doll house for us,” Natalya said of her sister. “She works very hard, so she earned it, extra. She always wanted to go to college.”

Torres was a high school basketball player who one season suffered an ankle injury, so she wants to be a physical therapist who helps others get back to health to continue doing what they love.

And then a boyfriend came to testify.

Gabriela Lopez, second from left, with her boyfriend and family members.

Carlos Azar watched Gabriela Lopez work for years toward her goal of attending GCU. He said he often didn’t see her for days because she was studying, at times until 4 a.m.

It’s just Gabriela and her mom at home now, as four older siblings went to work and didn’t attend college.

“I am really happy to represent what it is to be a Mexican American in the United States,” Lopez said after the scholarship announcement. “It’s important for me. I come from a low-income family from a Mexican immigrant mother. She worked so hard to uplift me, to motivate me every day.

“She wasn’t able to have this, so it's uplifting to be able to represent her and what her values are.”

She will study social work, borne of her desire to help others who have struggled like her family.

It’s a thread of purpose to their studies that runs through many recipients who come from immigrant families in the neighborhood.

Anahi Gonzalez, second from left, with her parents and brother.

Anahi Gonzalez said she has watched GCU grow from her home across the street and, since age 8, has dreamed of becoming an immigration lawyer.

“Ever since I was little my dad was chased by immigration. It is scary to wake up every day thinking there is an immigration officer outside waiting to take my dad. We had to go from home to home until he met a wonderful immigration lawyer, who helped him get his residency and is in the country legally,” she said. “The feeling I had after the lawyer helped him makes me want to help other people the way my family was helped.”

Others are motivated to help their own families.

Brad Reinhold celebrated after the announcement with his father, Matt, whom he watched all his life endure hard labor in flooring and roofing.

“I wanted to keep him going to school because I didn’t have that,” said Matt, a high school dropout. “I drilled it into him to look out for his future.”

Brad wanted to pay back his father’s good advice, working hard with his technology skills to enter study in cybersecurity.

“He told me he didn’t want me to live the life he did growing up, so I wanted to make him proud,” he said. “I’m also doing this to support the family. He’s not going to be able to do this for the rest of his life. He’s getting older.”

The SIS announcements are more than an award to a hard-working student. They are a celebration of deep family bonds.

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

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SIS recipients this week and their high schools:

Anahi Gonzalez, Washington

Dana Soto Gallegos, Apollo

Evelyn Pacheco, Washington

Gabriela Lopez, Glendale

Julia Hernandez, Independence

Melanie Galindo, Apollo

Melina Armenta Quintar, Independence

Natalia Ramirez, Bourgade Catholic

Kim Nguyen, Glendale

Arieana Chavez, Apollo

Mireya Chavez Cruz, Washington

Frida Lopez, Thunderbird

Melody Landa, Carl Hayden

Anayeli Osuna Medina, Bourgade Catholic

Brad Reinhold, Alhambra

Arianna Torres, Trevor G. Browne

Adam Buskirk, Sunnyslope

Ambar Lozano, Metro Tech

Angela Maria Santana Torres, Sunnyslope

Eduardo Figueroa, Wilson College Prep

Erika Barraza, Metro Tech

Marian Rubalcava Gastel, Metro Tech

Reese Brown, Sunnyslope

Ruby Nunez Ortiz, Maryvale

Viviana Barrera, Moon Valley

Yoselin Cruz Rodriguez, Sunnyslope

Obed Corral, Trevor G. Browne

Alejandra Giron, North

Avah Husk, Greenway

Skyler Montano, Greenway

Natalia Alba Rodriguez, Metro Tech

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Related content:

GCU Today: SIS scholarship winners make their parents proud

GCU Today: SIS scholarships provide hope to more families

GCU Today: SIS scholarships change lives of 16 more families

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