Scholarships Help Doctoral Candidate to Pay it Forward

By Sara Rinaldi, Office of Development Posted Mon, 12/09/2019 - 07:00

For many students, educational careers are products of philanthropy. Scholarships, supported by donors, alumni, and friends of USF, have consistently been a gateway of opportunity — allowing students like Sonya Arriola EdD ‘21, chances to fulfill their dreams. 

As a Catholic Educational Leadership Doctoral candidate, Sonya feels fortunate to be at USF and, to “have found my place in the world — in Jesuit ministries. It’s one of the few places I can be my complete self,” she said. “I can be the child of Mexican immigrants. I can be the child of uneducated people. I can be both an intellectual and an academic. I can be someone of service.”  

Sonya is confident that her life's mission is to provide educational access to deserving and talented youth.

A Legacy of Aiming Higher

Her story of achieving and striving for more began with her family roots in 1923. Sonya’s father was born in Mexico City, and fled during the Mexican Revolution, settling in a small rural community. At the tender age of 18, Sonya’s father came to the United States and became a migrant farmworker. Eventually, while in the bracero program, an agreement made by Mexico and the U.S. to provide short-term agricultural labor employment, he helped build the railroad from Eureka, California to Marin County. 

When Sonya’s father brought her mother to the United States, they agreed that they would “work hard so our kids can have something different.” Sonya’s mother fueled that desire, as her education stopped at grade school, and she felt compelled to make it her maternal mission to have both of her daughters educated.   

What the Impact of Generosity Can Do 

Her parents ensured she attended Catholic schools and taught Sonya to play tennis competitively, providing her with what they considered a well-rounded foundation. During one of her tennis tournaments, Sonya was recognized for her talent, and her parents were asked by a gentleman to consider an independent school where he informed her parents that he served as a trustee.

Sonya immediately fell in love with the small classroom size and the college preparatory institution, but the high-priced tuition was out of the question for her parents. In the end, the school offered Sonya a full scholarship. She and her parents were overcome with joy at the opportunity — which was a result of philanthropic support from others before Sonya who wanted to increase access to education. 

The full scholarship, Sonya believes, was linked to that auspicious day at the tennis tournament. Even though she wasn’t in the decision-making conversation, she felt the impact of his act of kindness and imagined she could almost hear the gentleman saying, “If we’re going to commit to financial access at this institution, we’re going to fund kids like Sonya.” 

Because of her preparatory school’s scholarship commitment, a series of events unfolded that put Sonya on a path to fulfill her higher calling. 

“It (the opportunity) wasn’t even like doors opened. It was like getting into an elevator that took me to this level that showed me a different world was possible.”

The thread of philanthropy did not stop there. Twenty years ago, Sonya tried to pursue a doctorate degree, but due to financial reasons, she thought that door had been closed forever. Today, Sonya is a recipient of the McGrath Institute for Jesuit Catholic Education Scholarship, — assisting her in pursuing her doctoral degree at USF. The gift of a scholarship, made from the generosity of the McGrath donors, has made her education possible and allowed Sonya to fulfill her life goal.

Scholarships allowed Sonya to not only fulfill her personal dreams and goals — but now they help her develop knowledge, skills, and abilities so that she can create educational opportunities for youth in the same way someone once did for her. 


This story was written in support of Changing the World from Here: Campaign for the University of San Francisco.