For a Second Year, Independent Scholarship Helps Support Black Students at Cal Poly
Fifth-year architecture student Jordan Greenfield is one of nine new or returning Cal Poly students to receive the California Community Foundation’s Black Student Scholarship this year. For Greenfield, the $3,000 per year award is helping relieve some of his financial stress.
“As a non-traditional low-income student, I've had to cast my net far and wide for tuition assistance,” said Greenfield, who joined Cal Poly as a community college transfer student. “It's huge for me, because at Cal Poly I've had to learn to prioritize my studies. Scholarships like this allow me to succeed going forward, focusing on my studies and not having to worry as much about the financial aspect.”
The scholarship, now in its second year, will renew for recipients every year as long as they maintain full-time enrollment and a 2.5 GPA. This year’s new scholars join seven students who earned last year’s inaugural scholarship.
An anonymous donor established the scholarship via the California Community Foundation (CCF), and other individual and corporate donors have since contributed to the fund in support of this scholarship. An independent advisory board of Cal Poly alumni and supporters reviews the applicants and makes the award decisions.
“The students applying for these scholarships are talented and strong. They are generously being vulnerable in sharing their stories and asking for that support,” said Sara Sparks, president of the Cal Poly Black Alumni Chapter and a member of the committee that awards the scholarship. “They don’t need someone to come in and save them. What they are asking for, in most cases, is for someone to listen to them, see them, and understand what it is going to take for them to succeed in college.”
Scholarships are awarded based on several key criteria: academic merit, financial need, academic goals, community involvement, and extraordinary challenges, such as being the first in the family to go to college, or working multiple jobs while achieving good grades at school.
“We're looking for grit, the ability to pick themselves up and oftentimes pull others with them,” said alumnus Kenric Stone, one of the members of the scholarship committee and a longtime Cal Poly volunteer and supporter. “That demonstrates their ability to respond to the rigor at Cal Poly, especially in an environment where their hardships might be different from others.”
Nailah DuBose, a first-year pre-med psychology student from Sacramento who is one of this year’s awardees, is eager to contribute to the campus community.
“I think that my job in receiving this scholarship is to make an impact on other students of color, particularly African-American students who think that attending a school like Cal Poly isn't even in the cards for them,” she said. “I'm able to show them that yes, it is.”
“We're seeing students that are ideally suited for Cal Poly, not just for the education they'd receive here, but also because their character, their student leadership or their academic interests would be a good addition to the Cal Poly community,” said Stone. “We'd like them to be a part of the Cal Poly family, because we see a lot of characteristics that help us all be better.”
The scholarship is aimed at fostering a more diverse community on a campus whose student population is currently less than 1% Black. The lack of students of color can take a mental toll — whether it’s from the subtle notion of feeling alone on campus, or from more overt incidents of bias or discrimination.
Sparks, who graduated in 2019, remembers the experience well.
“It's really hard when you're a student and you feel the need to be present in multiple roles — whether that is advocacy or developing into a young professional, or simply being a student and getting good grades,” she said. “With Black folks in particular, these roles tend to be normalized, because there’s often a narrative that through it all we will be resilient and we will survive. At the end of the day though, our needs vary, so what does it look like to center the needs of these students?”
For many otherwise qualified students, and disproportionately for students of color, getting into Cal Poly isn’t the hard part — paying for it is. Scholarships like this are meant to address that challenge, both by fostering a larger community of Black students on campus and by providing more support for the students already at Cal Poly.
“All of the applicants are worthy of assistance and care. The hard thing is determining how to justify prioritizing the needs of one scholar over another,” said Sparks. “We want these students to succeed. They were all qualified to get in — now what can we do to help get them not only to get to Cal Poly, but to get through the rest of this journey?”
Visit the California Community Foundation to learn more or make a donation to the Cal Poly Black Student Scholarship Fund.
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