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  • Erika Johnson

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  • Erika Johnson

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Nearly $500,000 in Support Grows PATHS Scholars Program

Yeabsira Atnafu

Yeabsira Atnafu

Yeabsira Atnafu has lived with epilepsy for most of her life. A first-generation undergraduate student at UC San Diego, Atnafu is studying cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, so that she can reframe conversations and address misconceptions about neurological diseases. As a PATHS Scholar, she was awarded a four-year scholarship to cover all educational costs, in addition to receiving ongoing academic and professional coaching, access to tutoring through the Teaching + Learning Commons and the opportunity to take part in research to improve health care access.

“The PATHS Program has changed my life,” said Atnafu. “The financial support is one of the biggest benefits of the program that allows me to continue with my education at UC San Diego. I have gained a valuable support system that include my peers, academic coaches, and career staff. I am very grateful for everything they have offered me.”

The PATHways to STEM through Enhanced Access and Mentorship (PATHS) Program, which launched in 2017, is dedicated to increasing the number, persistence and success of underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields at UC San Diego. The program will be expanding this year thanks to two new gifts and two successful grant proposals toward scholarships and student-centered resources.

An anonymous donor has committed $140,000 toward the program over the next four years—inspired by a passion for supporting underrepresented students in STEM fields—which will fund scholarships for three students per year. Scholarship awards will also grow thanks to a of $120,000 gift from San Diego Squared, which will also generate three scholarships per year for four years.

UC San Diego was also awarded $155,000 in grant funds from The Genentech Foundation, which will support the growth of the program’s physical space and enhance the capacity for coaching and mental health resources. The university was also awarded a $75,000 grant from The San Diego Foundation, which will provide summer research stipends for scholars.

“We are incredibly pleased to have successfully received grant funds from The Genentech Foundation and The San Diego Foundation. Grants from these organizations, combined with gifts for scholarships from our committed donors and San Diego Squared, remove barriers and develop dynamic opportunities for underrepresented students to thrive during their undergraduate experience at UC San Diego,” said Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Becky Petitt.

Scholarships bridge ambition and opportunity

Lizbeth Corona

Lizbeth Corona

Lizbeth Corona, a first-generation student and oldest of five siblings, is determined to be a role model. Her goal is to join the medical field and make an impact in disadvantaged communities that lack proper healthcare. As a PATHS Scholar, Corona receives up to $10,000 a year to support educational costs as well as a stipend for summer research.

“The PATHS Scholars program has helped me vanquish the financial aspect of my education at UC San Diego, which has allowed me to focus on obtaining outstanding opportunities, such as completing my laboratory assistant certification in the Fricovsky Lab,” explained Corona, who is studying human biology.

Twenty-one scholars were selected through a competitive application and interview process to take part in the program in the upcoming 2021 academic year. The number of scholarships awarded is growing thanks to philanthropy, allowing students to focus on achieving their academic goals rather than worrying about how to fund their education—an important factor for the 68% of PATHS scholars who come from households earning less than $40,000 per year.

“Scholarship gifts to the PATHS Scholars Program alleviate the financial burden of college affordability for our students,” said Guadalupe Cruz, the program’s director. “Our scholarship allows them to focus exclusively on their academics and taking on opportunities in lab, research and internships. Because of the generous contributions from donors and foundations, we are able to support more scholars every year. I am thrilled to introduce new initiatives to the program that will further enhance access and the support scholars receive.”

In addition, each scholar is trained in the UC San Diego Health Research Methodology Training Lab alongside STEM faculty, researchers and professionals from a range of career pathways. Students gain 50 hours of basic science methodology training and a lab assistant certificate upon completion, allowing them to take part in paid summer research and internships to help them nurture their STEM identities.

For instance, Corona obtained a paid internship position in Professor Joseph Gleeson’s laboratory at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, where she focused on investigating the genetic causes and treatments for pediatric diseases. The PATHS Scholars Program is also working with local STEM companies to establish partnerships that will expand the number of summer research internship opportunities available.


PATHS scholars, undergraduates from under-resourced communities pursuing STEM degrees, are supported through a network of mentors, advisors and supporters. Photo by Erik Jepsen/University Communications, captured prior to pandemic.

Thanks to a $75,000 Science and Technology grant from The San Diego Foundation, student stipends for summer research are expanding. Working in partnership with campus programs such as the Medical Science Training Program (MSTP) and Summer Training Academy for Research Success (STARS), scholars develop research skills and prepare for graduate school to become a competitive candidate.

“The PATHS program has always believed in my capability to grow as a student since my acceptance to the program,” said Corona. “PATHS gives me the confidence to be my best as a Latina first-generation college student at one of the best public universities in the country.”

More than a scholarship

The PATHS Scholars Program is led by the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and currently includes 57 scholars across four cohorts. The goal is to be able to expand opportunity to 30 new students annually to reflect the level of support that the University of Maryland Baltimore County offers through their Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which inspired UC San Diego’s PATHS Scholars Program.

Much more than a scholarship, the PATHS Scholars Program intuitively addresses each individual scholars’ needs, from socioemotional wellness to academic preparation and financial literacy. Through a $155,000 grant from The Genentech Foundation, the program will be debuting a new, larger office in Pepper Canyon Hall in Fall Quarter. The number of students served will be multiplied, and more resources will be made available such as emergency housing funds and remote learning tools like laptop cameras and hotspots.

An important addition made possible through the philanthropy will be bi-monthly wellness coaching sessions for scholars to cope and heal from the stress of the pandemic. Students will be able to meet with a wellness coach, utilize a meditation room, gain free access to the CALM mental health app and more. PATHS Scholars Program staff members will also receive training to help students through crisis and trauma.

Angel Sarabia

Angel Sarabia

For undergraduate Angel Sarabia, who is studying molecular and cellular biology, the program has helped build resilience. “This year the PATHS Scholarship helped me pay for my tuition and housing. More importantly, the program has been able to provide me with the support from people who are willing to advocate for me. I have benefited from our weekly learning labs and Wednesday lunch meetings because they help me feel less lonely during this COVID-19 pandemic. If I ever have a question, or need someone to talk to, I have a great support system within PATHS to assist me!”

The PATHS Scholars program is making a difference in the lives of scholars. Each student selected demonstrates a commitment to character, culture and community through their studies with an aim to give back. Philanthropy sets their dreams into motion, and amplifies their changemaking work. All gifts toward the program are part of the Campaign for UC San Diego, a university-wide comprehensive fundraising effort concluding in 2022.

In addition, the PATHS Program is looking to create and grow an endowed scholarship fund. The Chancellor’s Scholarship and Fellowship Challenge, provides a $1 match per $2 of gift for undergraduate scholarships through the close of the Campaign for UC San Diego on June 30, 2022, or when matching funds are exhausted. If you are interested in helping the PATHS Program start a new endowed scholarship, or learning more, please contact program director Guadalupe Cruz or John Jacinto Duca, director of Development, Diversity Initiatives.

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