Thanks to a new partnership between Occidental College and the Davis New Mexico Scholarship program, several first-generation students from New Mexico are attending Occidental at no cost. Students who receive the scholarship have the option to attend one of six partner schools (Lawrence University, Occidental College, Southwestern University, St. Edward’s University, University of Denver and the University of Portland) with tuition paid in full by the Davis family.
The Davis New Mexico Scholarship aims to break the generational opportunity gap, and awards 50 four-year scholarships annually. Since 2014, philanthropist Andrew Davis has made a commitment to help students attend college outside of New Mexico. Applicants must be future first-generation college students or belong to a low-income family.
According to Occidental’s Vice President of Enrollment Maricela Martinez, the school is the newest partner to the program.
“We visit schools and community-based organizations in New Mexico each year to recruit and hopefully enroll students,” Martinez said. “Last year, the New Mexico Scholarships organization approached us about the possibility of becoming a partner school. Given their mission of supporting first-generation college students, we thought this could be a good match.”
Martinez said Occidental was excited to partner with the program, which chooses students from across the state to participate.
“They reach out to the various community-based organizations throughout New Mexico, often connecting with students in rural parts of the state,” Martinez said.
According to Martinez, the program also provides various services to students, including counseling for students navigating the application process.
Director of Financial Aid Sheryl Reinschmidt said seven Davis New Mexico students enrolled this year at Occidental. Because of the new partnership, Occidental was able to offer enrollment at no cost.
“Half of their cost of attendance is provided by the scholarship, and half of the cost of attendance is covered either by federal grants or Occidental in its entirety. Because we’re a partner school, their entire cost of attendance is now covered by a combination of those funds,” Reinschmidt said.
Norely Breceda-Mendoza (first year), a Davis New Mexico scholar from Estancia, said a condition of their scholarship is that students must also be part of a college preparatory program such as AVID or Upward Bound.
“I was in ROCA, which stands for Rural Opportunities for College Access, because I went to a pretty small, rural school,” Breceda-Mendoza said. “I learned about [the scholarship] through those college readiness programs.”
Breceda-Mendoza said she remembered exactly where she was when she received her acceptance letter.
“I remember I got the scholarships in the mail, and I was alone at my house, and I opened it and there was confetti everywhere,” Breceda-Mendoza said. “I screamed, and my parents were outside, and they thought there was a spider in the house so they came running inside.”
According to Breceda-Mendoza, being accepted by the scholarship came as a surprise.
“It was very weird because it was shocking, so I didn’t know how to process it,” Breceda-Mendoza said. “Because it was weird to think that I wouldn’t have to pay for college. Med school is going to be so expensive, it’s nice to know that so much of the debt I would have had previously is lifted off my shoulders essentially.”
Breceda-Mendoza said that as part of the scholarship, she was able to visit Occidental after being accepted.
“In the spring, [the program] flew me out here to be able to visit and talk to the admissions counselors of the school, and I really liked it,” Breceda-Mendoza said.
Dominique Herrera (first year) said the organization checks in on students to make sure they have the resources needed to succeed.
“It’s been easier with them to transition to out of state and to a college I didn’t really think I would be attending,” Herrera said. “It’s an incredible opportunity. If anyone were to have the chance, they should just seize the opportunity because they don’t give the scholarship out to many people. It was an honor being able to accept it.”
Herrera said she started preparing for her scholarship application in eighth grade, and said she was shocked when she found out she would be attending Occidental.
“I was really surprised, I was very happy when I got that letter,” she said. “[Without the scholarship] I definitely would not have been able to attend Oxy just because of the cost of attendance and traveling.”
Herrera is a politics major and wants to go to law school when she graduates. Herrera said she had her eye on Occidental for the Rebellious Lawyering program.
“I saw the course description when I was researching this school and I fell in love with it because I really liked the program and what it was set out to do,” Herrera said. “I had my mind set on Oxy, so I was very happy that it worked out that way.”
Bridget Valdez (first year), a computer science major and one of the other scholars from New Mexico, said that she particularly liked Occidental’s location.
“If not here I would still be in New Mexico for sure,” Valdez said. “[I am] super excited to be in California, [and] the education stood out to be a little bit more than the other schools.”
According to Valdez, applying for the scholarship was stressful but worth it. She said she was drawn particularly to Occidental’s graduation rate.
“They just made it free tuition cost for UNM (The University of New Mexico), which is the university there,” she said. “But the graduation rate there is overall just not where I’d want it to be exactly.”
Josh Abeyta (first year), from Santa Fe, said he was also excited to attend Occidental with his cost of attendance paid in full.
“I found out over my spring break, and two days before I found out I visited the campus, and I really liked it,” Abeyta said. “When I was visiting, I was like ‘alright, this is nice, but I can’t get too attached because I still have to get in.’ But two days later, I got the acceptance letter.”
Abeyta said he found out about the process during his junior year of high school.
“My college counselor showed it to me, so then I had certain Davis scholarship schools in mind while researching,” Abeyta said.
While he originally applied with St. Edward’s University in Texas as his top choice school, Abeyta said his attention turned towards Occidental when it was added to the program. Since coming to Occidental, Abeyta said he’s enjoying his time as a student and as a member of the cross country team.
“I get to run on the cross country team which is really cool to get to continue my running career,” Abeyta said.
Abeyta said he believes the scholarship makes a huge difference for first-generation students applying for college, especially for those who want to attend an out-of-state school.
“It’s definitely changing so many lives. It’s definitely changing my life too,” Abeyta said.
Contact Kanaya Adams at email@example.com.