First-Gen Student Benefits From Close The Gap Scholarship

From May 11-16, Dominican is celebrating "Week of Caring." With the impact of COVID-19, we are prioritizing giving options and funds that directly support our students and emergency needs: Angel Fund, Close the Gap Scholarship, or Dominican Fund. So, as Penguins, let’s stand together to care for our students and our community.

Karla Hernandez Navarro’s goal is to one day inspire young women in her home town of Guanajuato, Mexico, to empower themselves. She was born and raised there in a small ranching community with limited opportunities for education. She is the first woman from the community to graduate from high school – the first woman to pursue a college degree.

“As a first-generation student, the road is extremely challenging,” Karla says.

Karla is among the hundreds of exceptional Dominican students who benefit from the Close The Gap Scholarship. This important scholarship helps ensure students can complete their degree at Dominican by providing direct tuition support for students who need help closing the gap between what they receive in financial aid and what they and their families can provide.

Karla immigrated to California in 2011, where she attended South San Francisco High School and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. A teacher convinced her to visit Dominican for her meeting with Undergraduate Admissions Director, Maria Gentile.

“When I came on my campus tour, Maria made my family and I realize that the college dream was challenging but attainable,” Karla says. “As we left campus, my dad said, `I will do everything to make sure you can come here.’ ”

The day Karla was accepted, Maria called to say congratulations.

“It was that personal attention that drew me to Dominican. It wasn’t only beginning accepted. It was the fact that someone believed in me,” Karla says.

The faith in Karla went beyond the Admissions Department, Dr. Denise Lucy, founder and executive director of the Institute for Leadership Studies, became a mentor when Karla took her “Exploring the World” class. A year later, confident in Karla’s abilities, she recruited her to be a teaching assistant.

In the spring of 2018 in her sophomore year, Karla also took a class that focused on the concepts of “othering” and “belonging” with Julia van der Ryn, director of Dominican’s Service-Learning program, and Emily Wu, Assistant Director of Community Outreach and Project Development. For this class, Karla served at Canal Alliance’s food pantry.

The hands-on experience combined with the concepts she gained in class gave Karla the analytical tools to better understand her own experience and the societal issues that impact immigrants in the U.S. Karla says that the concepts she learned opened her eyes to the systemic ways that people are marginalized.

At the end of the semester, Julia helped Karla establish a full-time internship with Canal Alliance. Through the research she conducted as an intern, Karla found that based on 2010 census data, approximately seven percent of Marin County residents – or 19,310 people – live in hard-to-count neighborhoods, defined by factors such as lack of English skills, housing instability, and poverty. The census count is crucial as it determines political representation and the allocation of more than $800 million in federal funding.

Encouraged and supported by faculty and staff, Karla applied the skills she has gained in the classroom to bring a census awareness event to Dominican in May 2019. Her work was featured in a front-page story in the Marin Independent Journal. Today, Karla continues to work with Canal Alliance on outreach surrounding Census 2020.

Karla was diagnosed with a rare eye condition during the sophomore year that prevented her from working two part-time jobs and making it very difficult to study. Support from Dominican made it possible for Dominican to continue her education.

“The Close the Gap Scholarship has made it possible for me to remain at Dominican and pursue my college dream,” Karla says. “I am grateful for the support that has afforded me such incredible opportunities at Dominican and beyond.”

Each academic year, our students’ need for this support becomes increasingly vital. This is why contributions to this fund are so critical. As part of our "Week of Caring," please consider making a gift toward the Close the Gap Scholarship. Thank you for taking the time to read Karla’s story and consideration in making a contribution. Dominican wishes you and yours good health and prosperity during these difficult times.

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