Paola Sequeira faced an uncertain future when she was sent from her native Nicaragua at the age of 8 to live with her aunt and uncle in Brandon.
She came with her 6 year old sister Javiera and they only spoke Spanish. Their early years were marked by tragedy – the death of their father, Roberto Antonio Sequeira, in an earthquake in Mexico and a plane crash in Managua that killed their brother and left their mother severely disabled.
But Sequeira made her way into her new life, excelling in school and graduating first in her class from Brandon High School. She dreamed of becoming a doctor and took her first steps towards this goal at the University of South Florida.
Today, Dr. Paola Sequeira, 47, is an endocrinologist working as an internal medicine specialist serving low-income families at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center.
Hers is one of hundreds of stories from Hispanic students with uncertain futures who attribute their accomplishments to a program that helped them find their way through USF.
In the 30 years since its launch, the Latino scholarship program has done more than pay the bills. It has created a supportive community that helps ensure success in the lives of its beneficiaries.
The program pairs academics with mentors and offers a monthly professional development series to teach skills such as resume writing, dinner etiquette, and networking.
âThe sense of solidarity that characterizes this scholarship grows every year,â said Sequeira. âThey are like a family. “
The latest and past recipients were honored in September at the 30th Latino Scholarship Ceremony at the USF Marshall Student Center.
“It’s a great initiative,” said Jose Valiente, president of the USF Foundation, which coordinates this program and six other scholarship programs. “There are other similar programs in the country, but this scholarship is unique because these days researchers give back and share their successes with the community.”
Valiente said he understands the importance and impact of the program. He graduated in accounting from USF in 1973, came from a low-income household and was the first in his family to attend college.
USF’s Latino Scholarship Program reflects a foundational commitment to helping our talented Latino students access a world-class educational experience – not only by providing financial assistance, but also through mentoring and community engagement, âsaid Rhea Law, interim president of the university, at the awards ceremony. ceremony.
The Latino scholarship program pays at least $ 2,000 per semester for tuition and fees and is renewable for up to 10 semesters.
Each year, the program supports 40 new recipients and 100 returning recipients. In total, more than $ 4.2 million in scholarships have been awarded to more than 600 students. The money comes from donations, not government grants.
The program is open to graduates of an accredited high school or community college in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, Pasco, Hernando, and Sarasota counties.
Requirements include financial need, a cumulative grade point average of 3.0, and completion of the Free Federal Student Aid Application. Special attention is given to students who speak Spanish fluently and who are the first in their family to attend university.
The USF program may be unique among Florida universities for the supportive community it provides, but there are many other financial aid options available to Hispanic students through both public and private sources.
Seventy scholarships of up to $ 100,000 each are advertised on a website, scholarships.com. And among the largest programs in the country is the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which has awarded $ 650 million in scholarships since 1975 and also provides a wide range of support services.
Hispanic high school graduates who automatically enter the University of Central Florida are automatically considered for a Hispanic National Scholarship, awarded for “recognizing outstanding academic performance” and renewable for eight semesters.
Undocumented students are not eligible for the Needs-Based Latino Scholarship Program, but they can apply for merit-based financial aid offered by the USF Foundation, such as the Status of Latinos or SOL scholarships.
Sequeira, who received a biology degree from USF and graduated with honors from the University of Miami School of Medicine, was the first student to be awarded a scholarship when the USF Latino scholarship program launched. in 1992.
One of the latest recipients is Eddy Antonio Santoyo, 20, of Tampa, who hopes to pursue a career in financial planning. Santoyo, a junior, is majoring in finance and studio art and is in his third year as a scholar.
This means that he doesn’t need a full-time job to pay for his studies: âIt helps because it allows us to advance in our studies and achieve our goals.
Santoyo’s parents, Carmen Cortes and Antonio Santoyo, came from the western Mexican state of MichoacÃ¡n in 1996. From an early age, Santoyo saw his father struggle for a living as a construction worker, sometimes working seven days a week. week.
âThey have done everything to give us a better life and that’s what I want to do for my community,â Santoyo said.
Her brother, Alexis, 23, is also a former beneficiary of the Latino scholarship program. In 2019, he obtained a license in political science. The two are the first in their family to pursue professional careers.
âI am very grateful that I can focus on my future,â Santoyo said. âMy responsibility is my studies and I want my parents to be proud of me.