WILLIMANTIC – David Galvez, who will begin his fifth year at Eastern in the fall, found out during finals that he would be receiving a scholarship through the Hispanic Alliance of Southeastern Connecticut. He said the scholarship was exactly what he needed to complete his tuition payment for next year.
“It’s a blessing, because at this moment I definitely needed that amount so that I could keep going to school next year,” he said. “It came to me at the right time.”
Eastern Connecticut State University is partnering with the Hispanic Alliance of Southeastern Connecticut to offer scholarships to students from Latino backgrounds – students like Galvez — who are in need of financial support.
The alliance plans to offer scholarships of up to $2,500 each, which the university will match. University President Elsa Núñez said at a press conference on Monday that the $5,000 would cover tuition and fees.
Núñez said that finances, not grades, are the main reason why students leave Eastern. Families who are struggling to keep their heads above water can’t afford to pay for college, and, for those with poor credit, taking out loans isn’t an option.
“We see a lot of students cry because they don’t want to leave Eastern,” said Núñez.
Galvez, who is originally from New London, said that his decision to come to Eastern was pragmatic more than anything else — the university was close to home, and it meant he could play at musical gigs on the weekend. But when he came to Eastern, he found both a family of other students and professors who acted as mentors.
“Everyone I meet in my path has just been so supportive of what I do and what my goals are,” he said.
Galvez said that when he came to Eastern as a first-generation college student and the child of undocumented immigrants, he found many other students he could connect with. For the past six years, Eastern has partnered with TheDream.US Foundation, a national organization that provides scholarships to young adults who are either in the country under Temporary Protection Status or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), to offer over 260 scholarships.
Claudio Melendez-Cooper, executive director of the Hispanic Alliance, said the Alliance hoped to offer between three and six scholarships per year to students at Eastern.
“Sometimes when new immigrant families and new Latina families arrive in the United States [and] they need to climb a ladder, there needs to be community providing that ladder,” he said.
The alliance received a grant from the City of New London for $27,000 from the city’s coronavirus relief funds to go toward the scholarships.
In addition to the scholarships, the Hispanic Alliance and Eastern will be partnering to bring two groups of high school juniors to the campus to learn about college through the Alliance’s BRILLA program. Melendez-Cooper said that part of the mission was not just to provide necessary funding but also to show high school and middle school students that college was a possibility.
The Alliance, which is based in New London, has relationships with over 11 high schools in the area, including the public high schools in New London, Waterford, East Lyme and Stonington, Norwich Free Academy, Fitch High School in Groton as well as The Williams School and St. Bernard’s in New London.
Both Núñez and Julia Kushigian-Secor, president of the Hispanic Alliance, emphasized that they wanted to provide opportunities to a wider pool of students than just straight-A achievers.
“We’re looking for the student who is flexible and can reach out and experiment, try different things, try, fail, and then try it again,” said Kushigian-Secor.
Traycee Reiser, chair of the scholarship committee for the Alliance, said that providing opportunities for first-generation students is something that will continue to have an effect on the coming generations. And María Amparo Cruz Saco, the Alliance’s secretary, pointed out that it’s also a way to invest back into the local community.
Galvez, a major in accounting and music who specializes in Latin percussion, said he wants to start a non-profit in New London for children who want to study music but don’t have the funds to pay for instruments. He also said that after coming to Eastern, he started helping high school students navigate the college application process.
“As first-generation students, a lot of the times you don’t have someone who’s guiding you through all of that. So I understand what it’s like to go through that. So the best I can do is help out those who I know what it’s like to be in their shoes,” he said.