2013 Latino Scholarship Awards Recipients


Photo by Aimee Blodgett | USF News

By Patsy Feliciano, director, Latino Scholarship Program


Weissy Acosta – the Braulio & Adelfa Alonso Endowed Scholarship


Acosta graduated from Braulio Alonso High School in the top 10 percent of her class with a 4.3 GPA. She was on the Principal’s Honor Roll and was a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society and the Beta Club. Acosta served as a tutor for fifth graders while volunteering at Lowry Elementary School. She said her most significant accomplishments are becoming a BULL and receiving the Latino Scholarship.


“My parents came from Cuba so that we would have opportunities. I have seen them struggle to find good-paying jobs and learn the language. They are my inspiration for pursuing a college degree, no matter what the obstacles are.”


Acosta will major in information technology.


Alejandro Bolivar – Columbia Restaurant “Centenario” Endowment scholarship


Bolivar graduated from Riverview Senior High School with a 4.2 GPA. He went from not speaking a word of English to taking AP and Dual Enrollment classes. He is trilingual – speaking English, Spanish and French. Bolivar volunteered at Brandon Regional Hospital where he assisted nurses in taking care of patients and also translated for patients who did not speak English. Leaving his native Venezuela has been his family’s biggest challenge. While struggling to adapt they were often struck by nostalgia and depression.


“While my parents worked hard, I studied endlessly,” he said. It paid off. Bolivar will major in microbiology and plans to become an anesthesiologist.


Liz Gomez – Adela & Cesar Gonzmart Endowed Memorial Scholarship


Gomez graduated with honors from Durant Senior High School with a 4.3 GPA – in the top 10 percent of her class and received numerous academic awards.


She said, “When my family came from Cuba, we did not know anyone and my parents did not have jobs. Now, we have been in this country for twelve years and have been blessed with a solid foundation on which we continue to grow.”


Gomez will study elementary education and plans to work with underprivileged students.


Maggali Callejas – Adela & Cesar Gonzmart Memorial Scholarship


Callejas graduated from Winter Haven Chain Lakes High School with a 4.0 GPA. She is a first generation college student and the first in her family to graduate from high school. She is not just graduating with a high school diploma, she is also graduating with an associate’s degree.


Life has not always been easy for Callejas and her family. As a migrant family they worked long hours in the field. Maggali struggled with moving all over the country, missing school and arriving after all the other children had already had a chance to adapt. “Now, I realize that that made me stronger!” she said. Callejas will major in interdisciplinary studies.


Bradley Tercero – Columbia Restaurant “Centenario” Endowment Scholarship


Tercero earned his high school diploma from Braden River High School with a 3.7 GPA. He is the first one in his family to graduate from high school and is proud of being the role model for two younger brothers. Tercero said he is glad he never listened to those who told him to give up on his dream of attending USF.


“There was a time when attending USF almost seemed impossible because I simply didn’t have the money to attend. I am thankful for this and other scholarships that made it possible for me to be here,” he said.


Tercero will major in biomedical sciences and plans to join the Army in the Medical Service Corps. His ultimate goal is to attend medical school and become a thoracic surgeon.


Thomas Cella – Dominick & Emelene Aripoli Scholarship


Cella graduated eleventh in a class of 500 at Newsome High School with a 4.6 GPA. He has been recognized academically with a place on the Principal’s Honor Roll and as both an AP Scholar with Distinction and a Tampa Tribune Scholar. Cella was a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish National Honor Society and volunteered with Teens for Kids to raise money for migrant farm workers and their families. He will major in biomedical sciences and plans to join USF’s School of Pharmacy. As a bilingual-pharmacist he is proud of the prospect of helping Latino families.


Rachel Erickson – Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council Scholarship


Erickson graduated in the top two percent of her class from King High School with a 4.3 GPA. She is also a first generation college student.


She said, “Even though there was never any doubt, graduating from high school was a big milestone in my life. I had set a goal as far back as I can recall that I would be the first in my family to go to college.”


Erickson has a passion for marine life and plans to pursue a degree in marine biology. She believes the opportunities to discover new cures, rehabilitate animals and educate people about the ocean are endless. Her dream is to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in that field.


Edgar Cordova – Tampa Bay Community Scholarship


Cordova graduated fourteenth in his class at Lake Wales High School with a 4.4 GPA. He is the first in his family to graduate from high school. In spite of the many financial struggles his family faced, he took dual enrollment classes, played sports and volunteered in the community. Cordova’s most valuable lesson came from volunteering at Lake Wales Care Center, where he learned to give thanks for what he has. At the Center, he helped to provide food, clothing and beds to people in need. Cordova will major in biomedical sciences and plans to become an optometrist.


Jonathan Dos Santos – Tampa Bay Community Scholarship


Dos Santos graduated from Dunedin Senior High School with a 3.4 GPA. During his senior year, he juggled a full-time job, dual enrollment classes, an executive internship and playing high school soccer. He speaks three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese. Dos Santos was the top scorer on his high school soccer team and interned with the Sixth Judicial Circuit in Clearwater, where he shadowed assistant state attorneys and judges. He also volunteered at the Kiwanis Horses for the Handicapped Barn in Seminole, where he helped to take care of the horses and the barn. His satisfaction came from seeing children with disabilities come to camp to enjoy the horses and the facilities. Dos Santos will study political science and plans on pursuing a law degree.


Laura Rodriguez – Tampa Bay Community Scholarship


Rodriguez graduated at the top 10 percent of her class at Bloomingdale Senior High School with a 4.2 GPA. She has found inspiration in her mother, a single mother who managed to overcome language and financial barriers upon their arrival from Colombia. Rodriguez volunteered at the neurological unit of Brandon Regional Hospital, where she helped patients overcome many of their challenges. Laura will major in biomedical sciences and plans to become a psychiatrist.


Jose Velasquez – Tampa Bay Community Scholarship.


Velasquez graduated in the top seven percent of his class in the IB program at Strawberry Crest High School with a 4.1 GPA. He and his family endured many hardships after their arrival from El Salvador.


He said, “I remember when my dad lost his job and my mother took a job cleaning houses for someone. Those were difficult times. Since then, my dad has found a job, my mom cleans houses for herself and I received my IB diploma. Life is good!”


Velasquez said his most important accomplishment is getting accepted at USF and receiving the Latino Scholarship award. He will major in pre-med and plans to become a physician. He would like to work with an organization like Doctors without Borders, focusing on areas of need in Central and South America.


Carmen Espinal – Merchants Association Endowed Scholarship


Espinal graduated from Plant High School with a 4.0 GPA. She was a member of the National Honor Society, the National Beta Honors Club and the Social Studies Honor Society.


“As a new student in the US, the hardest part was doing in a year and a half what many students do in four to five years. It meant I had to take as many honors and Advanced Placement classes as I could. But I made it,” she said.


Espinal will study biomedical sciences and plans on going to dentistry school.


Manuela Flores – Tampa Bay Hispanic Bar Association Scholarship


Flores graduated from Tampa Bay Technical High School in the top 10 percent of her class with a 4.3 GPA. She and her mother came to the United States alone from Colombia. While her mother cleaned houses to raise her and to provide all that she needed, Flores learned English and enrolled in AP and dual enrollment classes. The credits that she took in high school allowed her to start at USF as a sophomore. Through the school’s medical program, she became a physical therapy aid and was able to put her knowledge to the test at local hospitals and clinics. Manuela will study pre-medicine and plans to become a physician.


Juan Gonzalez – Tampa Bay Hispanic Bar Association Scholarship


Gonzalez graduated from Tampa Bay Technical High School with a 3.1 GPA. He was captain of the school’s soccer team and juggled honors classes and membership in several organizations. Gonzalez speaks English, Spanish and some French and is learning Portuguese. One of his goals is to be a good role model for his younger brother and to show him that everything is possible if you persevere. Gonzalez will major in chemical engineering and plans to work with a large pharmaceutical company.


Sierra Ruiz – MarkMaster Scholarship


Ruiz graduated in the top 10 percent of her class at Nature Coast Technical High School with a 3.9 GPA. She took dual enrollment classes and is graduating with both her high school diploma and her associate’s degree. And she did all that in just three years. Ruiz was a member of the National Honor Society, was recognized as Hernando County’s Chamber of Commerce Top Student and was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society at Pasco Hernando Community College. Her major will be biomedical sciences with plans to pursue a degree in pharmacy.


Kimberly Mejias – MarkMaster Scholarship


Meijas graduated from Braulio Alonso High School with a 3.9 GPA. She is a first-generation college student and is proud to serve as a role model for her younger sister. She speaks three languages: Spanish, English and German. Meijas was involved in student government and received numerous awards in theater. She will major in psychology and plans to serve our country by joining the U.S. Navy. Her ultimate goal is to pursue a PhD in psychology.


Marcelino Mederos Liriano – Lolita Sauza Visot Memorial Scholarship


Mederos Liriano graduated twelfth in his class at Middleton High School with a 4.2 GPA. Starting from scratch upon arriving in the U.S. from Cuba was stressful for his entire family. It was hard for him to see his parents, who had both been licensed professionals in Cuba, now work minimum-wage jobs. As a student, he also found himself starting from scratch, learning English while learning about the education system and what he needed to do to go to college – all at the same time. But Mederos Liriano excelled. He earned a spot on the Principal’s Honor Roll and received the President’s Education Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence; the Hillsborough County School District Scholar Athlete Award; the Outstanding Science Student Award; the Derek Jeter/Hillsborough Education Foundation Scholarship; and the Heart of Champion Scholarship.


He said, “In spite of the odds, I proved that I could succeed no matter what.” Mederos Liriano will major in biomedical sciences and plans to become a surgeon.


Lina Rodriguez – Mayor’s Hispanic Heritage Committee Scholarship


Rodriguez graduated with a 4.0 GPA from Bloomingdale Senior High School. She joins her twin, Laura Rodriguez in being awarded the Latino Scholarship. She also remembers how difficult it was for her mother to get ahead with no family in this country and two young daughters.


“It’s been tough for my mom, as a single parent, to raise twin daughters while working at a gas station,” she said. Her mother’s hard work served as inspiration for the twins, who focused on studying hard and gaining knowledge about going to college to make their mother proud. Rodriguez will major in health sciences and plans to attend medical school.


Gerson Almaguer – Sant'Yago Education Foundation – the Honorable Raul Palomino Scholarship


Almaguer transferred from Hillsborough Community College where he held a 3.0 GPA. He is the first in his family to graduate from high school. He participated in Spanish drama competitions while also receiving the soccer MVP award of the year. Among his most significant accomplishments are having been accepted into the USF engineering program and receiving the Latino Scholarship. He will study electrical engineering and plans to own his own company to search for alternative renewable power sources.


Eric Bautista – Sant'Yago Education Foundation Endowed Scholarship – Presented by Joe Amon


Bautista transferred from South Florida Community College with a 3.6 GPA. He is from the first-generation in his family to attend college. “The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome is growing up without my parents, who live in Mexico. My brother has been providing for me since I was ten years old.” In spite of many challenges, Eric excelled in school, co-founded the Phi Beta Lambda Future Business Leaders of America chapter, and the Desoto Panther Ambassadors Club. He is a member of the International Honor Society of Beta Gamma Sigma and Phi Sigma Theta Honor Society. He will major in accounting to become a CPA.


Angel Leon – Sant’Yago Education Foundation – Presented by Michael Sierra


Leon earned his associate’s degree from Hillsborough Community College with a 4.0 GPA. He is thankful to his parents for instilling in him a commitment to education. Leon arrived to the U.S. from Cuba at the age of 16, which required that he focus on adapting to a new culture and learning a new language at a time when everyone else was focused on getting ready for college. While the family struggled financially, Leon put all his energy into applying himself and succeeding in school. He loves technology and will major in engineering. His ultimate plan is to work for one of the country’s ‘tech giants’ like Google, Microsoft or IBM.


Robinson Mejia – Sant'Yago Education Foundation Endowed Scholarship – Presented by Renynold Gosselin


Mejia graduated with honors from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.6 GPA. He is from the first generation in his family to attend college. Mejia works for the Hillsborough County Public School system as an instructor in their after school program. He was assigned to a school with a large population of Latino students, where he has helped many Latino parents with their concerns in Spanish. Mejia will major in biomedical sciences and plans to apply to the Morsani College of Medicine. His ultimate goal is to become a primary care doctor.


Jeffrey Minaya – Sant’Yago Education Foundation Endowed Scholarship – Roos Geradts


Minaya earned his associate’s degree from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.5 GPA while juggling his studies and a full-time job. He is trilingual, speaking English and Spanish and being fluent in American Sign Language. He says his mother is his source of inspiration and believes his biggest accomplishment has been being a good role model for his three young siblings. Minaya will major in business and hopes to open his own business in Tampa.


Elisabet Fandiño – Sant’Yago Education Foundation- Drs. Rex and Geneva Damron scholarship


Fandiño is a first generation college student and the first to pursue a master’s degree. She has been admitted to the USF School of Music. The piano has had a tremendous impact on Fandiño’s life and has opened many doors. This summer, she was awarded a prestigious fellowship with the Florida Orchestra during which time she visited 24 schools preparing students for wind quintet performances. She has balanced her academic work and a full-time job and, although challenging, she says she is proud of not having “given up.” Fandiño will pursue a master’s in piano pedagogy.


Claudia Suarez – Sant' Yago Education Foundation Endowed Scholarship – presented by Dr. Geneva Damron


Suarez earned a 3.9 GPA at Hillsborough Community College. She came from Cuba six years ago and has since learned English and succeeded in all of her academic endeavors. Her most difficult challenge was to leave her mother behind in Cuba, something she is still getting used to. Suarez says she admires her family for having the courage and fortitude to make that decision so that she could have a chance at attaining the American dream. She said, “My parents are my motivation to be strong and keep going until I reach my goals.” In addition to her academic success, she has volunteered at Academy Prep for two years, tutoring students through tough subjects. Suarez will major in interdisciplinary studies and plans to support her community by working as a teacher or a counselor.


Ada Sulbaran – Sant' Yago Education Foundation Endowed Scholarship – presented by Dr. Ray Ortiz


Sulbaran graduated with honors from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.9 GPA. She was on the Dean’s List and was recognized in Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges. She was presented with the Outstanding Chapter Officer Award from the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and the Honor Institute Ambassador Award. While volunteering at HCC’s children’s development center, Sulbaran found her passion. Her interactions with children helping teachers and parents to address children’s behavioral and personal challenges convinced her to pursue a path that would allow her to impact children’s lives. She will major in psychology and plans to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology.


Daniel Galvis Acevedo – Sant’Yago Education Foundation Scholarship


Acevedo transferred from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.3 GPA. He graduated in one year. His most memorable volunteering experience was participating in Rebuilding Tampa Bay.


“I will never forget the look in the family’s face at the end of the project”, he said. His biggest accomplishment was to go from not thinking he was capable of pursuing a bachelor’s degree to being here, he said. Acevedo will major in business administration and will join the United States Army as an officer.


Ashley Martinez – Sant’Yago Education Foundation Scholarship


Martinez transferred from the State College of Florida Sarasota Manatee with a 3.6 GPA. She is from the first generation in her family to attend college. She was on the Dean’s list, the President’s list and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.


“I’m very thankful to my parents for deciding to come to this country in spite of many challenges because all of the sacrifices have and will continue to pay off,” she said. Martinez has set out very clear goals for herself and will major in biology with a concentration in cell and molecular biology. She plans to apply for the School of Optometry at Nova Southeastern University and pursue a residency in ocular disease.


John Rivas – Sant’Yago Education Foundation Endowed Scholarship


Rivas is a transfer student from Hillsborough Community College where he earned a 3.4 GPA. He is a first generation college student. Rivas says his most significant accomplishment has been to support his family while they were going through a tough time while keeping good grades in college. He has volunteered with Kaboom, a non-profit organization that builds area playgrounds for children in needy neighborhoods and shelters.


“It made me feel great knowing that I helped build something that will help needy children,” he said. Rivas will major in finance and plans to enter the United States Army after graduation to become an officer. His ultimate goal is to work in financial investment after retiring from the Army.


Sasha Sierra – Sant’Yago Education Foundation Scholarship


Sierra transferred from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.6 GPA. She is from the first generation in her family to attend college. Two years ago, Sierra was on her way to Rutgers University when her mother fell ill and she was forced to make one of the most difficult decisions in her life: to go away to pursue her education or to stay home to help her family. She decided on the latter and is grateful for having done that. She attended HCC, where she was recognized with the Student Excellence Award and the Honors Institute Ambassador Award. She will major in political science and plans on studying law.


Jeysi Alvarez – Tampa Bay Community Scholarship


Alvarez graduated with honors from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.7 GPA while working full-time. She says her biggest challenge was living in Cuba under the constant harassment and intimidation of the Cuban government. Her father, who openly criticized the Cuban dictatorship, was granted political asylum, but her mother was not allowed to leave Cuba. Leaving her mother behind to pursue a better life for her and her dad has been the hardest thing she has ever experienced.


“In spite of our separation, I am thankful every day to live in this great nation and for the freedoms we enjoy,” she said. Alvarez is excited about her future. She will major in biomedical sciences and plans on becoming a doctor.


Nancy Hernandez – Tampa Bay Community Scholarship


Hernandez transferred with a 3.8 GPA from St. Petersburg College. She is from the first generation in her family to graduate from high school. Hernandez and her family have endured many hardships. When her father fell ill, her mother’s job as a cook at McDonald's was the only source of income. She considers those experiences the motivation that she needed to get ahead and succeed. Hernandez just returned from an internship in Chicago with JCPenney, where she gained management experience that will help her understand business and the retail industry. Nancy is majoring in mass communications.


Jenny Mojarena Martin – Tampa Bay Community Scholarship


Mojarena transferred from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.1 GPA and is the first in her family to graduate from high school. She attributes her positive outlook on life to the challenges that she has had to overcome as they have made her a stronger person.


“Earning an associate’s degree may mean nothing to some, but it means a lot to me,” she said. Mojarena is looking forward to the next phase in her life and is excited about her next two years at USF. She will major in biomedical sciences and plans to enter medical school. Her ultimate goal is to become a pediatrician.


Yania Muniz – Tampa Bay Community Scholarship


Muniz is a transfer student from Hillsborough Community College where she earned a 3.0 GPA. She is the first in her family to graduate from high school. Going to college wasn’t easy for her, but she has been able to maintain her education as a priority and is thrilled about being here at USF. She’d like to give back to her community by working in the health field helping others. Muniz will major in public health.


Yesenia Peña – Tampa Bay Community Scholarship


Peña transferred from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.4 GPA, and she is the first in her family to graduate from high school. Traveling with her family to find work has not been easy for Yesenia growing up. As migrant workers, her family moved from place to place always looking for a place to live and work.


“Going to college was a completely new concept for me. I did not know where to start or what to do. My parents didn’t know anything about college, and I do not have any other family members in college,” she said. Yet, Peña managed to do everything on her own and on time.


“Not everyone can say they have done that. Most of my classmates either dropped out or had a family to take care of. Getting accepted into USF has been a great accomplishment,” she said. Yesenia will study political science and plans on pursuing a law degree. Her ultimate goal is to become an immigration attorney.


Pedro Suarez – Tampa Bay Community Scholarship


Suarez transferred from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.2 GPA. He is the first one in his family to graduate from high school. “I think the most difficult challenge I’ve had to overcome was the separation from my family in Cuba,” he said. Suarez believes the most significant accomplishment in his life thus far is the fact that he is pursuing an education. He will major in engineering.


Jeanette Bravo – Raymond and Antonia Ortiz scholarship


Bravo transferred from Polk State Community College with a 3.0 GPA, and she is the first in her family to graduate from high school. “My parents came to the US to give my sibling and me opportunities and a better future. Most of my classmates had parents who could provide guidance about going to college. I had to figure everything out on my own. Going to college is a tremendous accomplishment, not just for me, but for the entire family as I am now able to guide my siblings in the right direction,” she said.


Bravo will study political science and plans on becoming an immigration or criminal defense lawyer.


Tania Comas – Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council


Comas transferred from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.0 GPA, and she is the first in her family to graduate from high school. Looking back, Comas said, “My biggest accomplishment has been not succumbing to any sort of peer pressure. I always did what I knew would get me ahead in life.” Comas volunteered at a law firm where she read cases ranging from adoption to divorces and learned from the proceedings. Comas is interested in law and will major in criminology.


Lisa Guadalupe – Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council Scholarship


Guadalupe transferred from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.2 GPA and is from the first generation in her family to attend college. She was awarded a scholarship to travel to the New Organizing Institute National Convention in Washington, DC and has been a member of the Dominican Association of Tampa Bay. Guadalupe participated in project Mesa Feliz, which provides Christmas meals to underprivileged families.


“My most significant accomplishment has been to earn my associate’s degree. My goal is to continue my education despite any and all bumps on the road,” she said. Guadalupe will double major in sociology and business management. She plans to apply for a Pathways Internship in Washington D.C., where she can gain skills in human resources.


Jean Valdez – Tampa Bay Latin American Medical Society Scholarship


Valdez transferred from Hillsborough Community College with a 3.9 GPA and is from the first generation in his family to graduate from high school.


“My most significant accomplishment is getting into USF,” he said. An illness after high school prevented Valdez from playing soccer in college but allowed him to devote all of his time to work on earning good grades and excelling in school, and he took full advantage of it. He will major in biomedical sciences and plans on becoming a dentist and owning his own clinic.