Victoria Figueroa grew up watching her mom—a single parent originally from Colombia—work three jobs while overcoming cancer. Her mother became Figueroa’s inspiration and motivation, her reason to succeed.
“One day, I want to give her everything from the moon and back,” Figueroa says. “I want to show my mom that her sacrifices really paid off.”
The undergraduate psychology major plans to eventually earn a Ph.D. and work in hospitals assisting patients who have psychological disorders. She also dreams of making history as one of the first—if not the first—psychologist-astronaut conducting mental health evaluations and mediating conflict during missions in space. The first step: To earn her bachelor’s degree.
FIU’s Golden Gift First Generation Scholarship, she says, is helping her get there.
This year, Figueroa was selected as one of 60 students who received the $5,000 award. The fund aims to help promising juniors and seniors who are first in their family to attend college and have a minimum grade point average of 2.5.
The scholarship program is led by the Biscayne Bay Campus (BBC) Vice Provost’s Council, a group of community and business leaders committed to supporting the campus. Their first effort netted $1 million for scholarships, and they are well on their way to exceeding that goal during their current effort.
The group boasts an impressive array of members who’ve forged their own paths to success, including current and former judges, attorneys, physicians, CEOs and mayors. These individuals contribute to the fund out of their own pockets and lead fundraising efforts among their extensive networks of colleagues and friends.
“It’s extremely rewarding,” says Jonathan Evans, chair of the council. “When you hear the background of the students [who earn the scholarship], it’s amazing. Some of them are working two or three jobs to make ends meet as well as going to college. They’ve got responsibilities in their families. In a lot of cases, [getting the scholarship] means that instead of graduating in six years they can do it in four.”
For Figueroa, it means being able to take a load off of her mother’s shoulders and pay for her school-related costs.
“This scholarship is helping me reach my goals,” Figueroa says. “It’s a huge relief that these generous [donors] are helping me excel in my career. I feel very blessed. There are no words to express how grateful I am.”
The council members don’t just donate their treasure. They also donate their time, providing students with expert-level feedback on resumes and advice on how to interview when recruiters come to campus. To forge stronger community ties for FIU, the council members, most of whom live in the vicinity of BBC, also promote the institution and BBC in particular.
“Our council members know exactly what the campus has to offer, which has expanded remarkably over the last few years,” says Evans, a retired educator who serves as chairman of the community services advisory board of the City of Aventura. “They can speak knowledgeably about the university to the outside world. They’re trying to help in any way at BBC to improve things for the students.”
“The council’s efforts speak directly to the university’s mission, vision and values,” says Pablo G. Ortiz, vice president and vice provost for regional and world locations. “The council [members] are committed, hardworking ambassadors who tell the FIU story and advocate for BBC in our community. The council’s commitment to fundraising helps ensure that an FIU education remains accessible for students whose means may be limited, but whose talent and determination are limitless.”