Mariana B. ’22 spent her first year familiarizing herself with UCLA and diving into classes, clubs, and hospital volunteering. But it took deeper reflection — and pandemic restrictions — to realize her true aspirations.
“I think the pandemic has really put things in perspective,” she shares. “I felt frustrated that I couldn’t go to the hospital because I really enjoyed interacting with patients — it was rewarding, and I felt good knowing that I was helping them in some way. Being away from the hospital has made me realize that I want to care for people, and a career in nursing has really stood out to me.”
Helping her on the journey is the Halem Family Scholarship, which enabled Mariana to come from Gilroy, California, to UCLA in 2018 and to continue her education during COVID-19. “Right now, I think we find ourselves in a situation where everyone is being affected by the pandemic in some way, and many students have limited resources. So I am very grateful for this scholarship,” she says.
Opening Opportunities for Others
Donors Robert Halem ’65 and Maxine Halem ’66 couldn’t be prouder of their first recipient. The couple, who met at UCLA, created the fund to help UCLA undergraduates, particularly those from the Gilroy and Salinas area of Central California. The largely rural region is home to many households without high incomes or higher education but who eagerly want their children to attend college.
The Halems heard local families’ experiences firsthand while representing UCLA at college fairs and send-offs through the Bay Area Bruins alumni network. They met hundreds of high-schoolers, many of whom were prospective first-generation college students, and their parents, who worried about affording a four-year institution. Many students didn’t even consider UCLA because of costs. These conversations struck home.
“I was the first in my family to go to college, and UCLA means a lot to me. Robert and I were lucky to get the education we did,” says Maxine Halem. “As an elementary teacher in Title 1 schools, I worked with many kids like these students who didn’t have the opportunities we had. So we wanted to make a difference for them, not just early on but all the way through a top university like UCLA.”
Gilroy Bruins Give Back
Their scholarship already has increased UCLA’s pipeline of students from Gilroy, including Edin A. ’21. The sociology major is preparing to graduate and pursue a law career, envisioning a pro bono legal center for underrepresented communities and a foundation for supporting low-income students.
“My experience here has been more than I ever dreamed,” Edin says. “UCLA is more than the #1 public university and more than the amazing courses and faculty. We are a family of Bruins dedicated to making a difference in the world, our communities, and our school. As I move forward, I, too, seek to contribute to making UCLA the best school in the world — and somewhere a kid from a small town like me can make their dreams come true.”
Mariana continues contributing to her community through a telemedicine diabetes program, in which she mentors participants from Latinx/Hispanic communities. And by coming to UCLA, she naturally serves as a role model for others from her hometown.
“Accepting great change in our lives can be challenging. We may hesitate in taking those first steps with the fear of making mistakes,” she shares with other students. “Accept your losses and successes, reflect on your strengths, and build upon your curiosities. Do not feel rushed. With time, you will understand that your efforts, big or small, are all valid and worth it.”
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Published May 2021