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Anonymous gift provides scholarships to Yuma MSW students

‘The news for me was like a miracle,’ says one of 3 sisters enrolled


Yuma, MSW, students, San Luis, COVID-19, testing, vaccinations, vaccine

Student volunteers from ASU’s Yuma MSW degree program recently went to the border crossing in San Luis, where they educated participants about COVID-19 testing and vaccines, helped participants complete registration paperwork, and answered questions from constituents during a testing event. From left: Luz Martinez, Blanca Chavez, Ana Ortega, Gabriela Haworth and Bridget Alvarez. Photo courtesy of Hyunsung Oh

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January 31, 2022

Their younger sister Yulia Chavez was the first to tell them the good news.

But only after Luz Martinez and Blanca Chavez were able to open their laptops and read the university’s email for themselves did it really sink in: Each was getting a $4,500 scholarship.

And not only the three of them, but every other student in their cohort.

The three sisters, all residents of the Yuma area, are among 21 students currently earning Master of Social Work degrees from an Arizona State University School of Social Work program taught in person in Yuma.

Each student received a $4,500 scholarship for the spring 2022 semester from an anonymous gift to the ASU Foundation for a New American University.

Martinez said that after hearing from her sister, she didn’t immediately grasp that the scholarship was for all 21 students.

“I didn’t understand that everyone was getting the scholarship,” Martinez said. “I was going home and checking my emails, and then I realized it was for everyone, not just a couple students. For me it was so wonderful.”

The money was especially welcome in Martinez’s household. She had been her family’s principal breadwinner, but she and her husband made a tough decision last summer: She would stop working to give her studies her full attention.

“I was thinking of going back to work this spring semester; my internship and a few days working out of the week. So the news for me was like a miracle,” Martinez said. “Now I can still focus on my studies 100% and give it all to my education.”

'For me, it was a blessing'

Blanca Chavez said that after hearing from Yulia, she too read the ASU email on her laptop.

“I started to cry,” Blanca said. “We were struggling financially at my house. For me, it was a blessing to be able to get this scholarship. This is a great resource for our cohort.”

Martinez said she and her husband are expecting a baby in April, so the money is now even more welcome, since she will be unable to work for some time after her child is born.

“I can lay back a little bit and finish my program with the good grades that I have. I am so grateful to the donors who donated this money for us,” Martinez said. “They believe in us and know we can make changes in our community.”

The donors, who are in the social work field, were impressed with the quality of the program and how it is preparing many Yuma-area residents to pursue social work careers in their home communities, according to the ASU Foundation.

“These scholarships mean such a great deal to the students in our Yuma MSW cohort, and the kindness and generosity of the donors who provided them mean a great deal to me,” said Liz Lightfoot, Foundation Professor and School of Social Work director. “This wonderful gift speaks to how this degree program is having a positive impact on the greater Yuma community, which benefits in many ways from the service of its alumni and its current students preparing for social work careers. The donors have my sincerest thanks, on behalf of the school and each of our students.”

The sisters are part of the program’s second cohort. The program began in August 2020 to serve students who wanted to work in the Yuma area. Many are locals who had bachelor’s degrees but had no opportunity to earn an in-person master’s unless they were willing to move or travel for nearly three hours each way to Phoenix.

Yuma students already making positive impact

Students attend classes in space at Arizona Western College. Completing the degree requirements in one academic year also involves meeting for full days on Saturdays, said program coordinator and School of Social Work Lecturer Brett Petersen.

Petersen said the area surrounding Yuma, including western Arizona and southeastern California, is already seeing a positive impact from the current cohort, all but one of whom are first-generation college graduates.

“We are very invested in the Yuma community through our students,” Petersen said. “There is no worthier group of individuals. They are passionate about making the community where they live better.”

Petersen said two students are interning at a social services provider in El Centro, California, where he said their director calls them the “guts of the operation.”

“They intern at a hotel where migrants are housed temporarily and they help them connect with family members by getting flights,” Petersen said.

Alumni are also making a difference. Petersen said one of his proudest moments came when a graduate of the program called to ask if he wanted to volunteer for an event.

The student was coordinating the event, which offered several services including COVID-19 vaccinations, tests and advice on how to avoid contamination by pesticides when doing fieldwork. Petersen eagerly volunteered.

“I watched 2,000 farm workers attend, and our student in the middle of it coordinating it. It was just incredible,” he said.

Blanca Chavez said the scholarship was a blessing that will enable her to complete her master’s degree.

“I told my husband right away, and he said, ‘Everybody’s got that?’ And I said, yes, everybody!” she said.

Blanca said she feels strongly that she can give back to her community when she graduates in May 2022.

“I want to become an agent of change. This is an amazing group of social workers,” she said.

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