Santa Monica College has awarded its third annual Chui L. Tsang Transfer Scholarship to SMC student Cinthia Maga√±a. The new Tsang Scholar – who has overcome extreme poverty, her undocumented status, and other adverse circumstances to pursue her education – will transfer this fall to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and will receive $15,000 for two years to complete her Bachelor’s Degree.

Maga√±a is a former President’s Ambassador of Santa Monica College — part of a select group of students who serve as institutional ambassadors — and worked to help undocumented SMC students build partnerships with community agencies that can provide educational resources. Last summer, Maga√±a was selected by the SMC Foundation to participate in the Dale Ride Internship Program in Washington, DC, and became the first-ever undocumented student to work for the U.S. Department of Education.

She also served on the Associated Students Board of Directors to bring awareness, opportunities – and fun – to the SMC student body, and as Outreach Director for the student club IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success), which fosters leadership in undocumented communities through workshops on immigration topics to assist families with their legal status.

Magaña was brought to the United States from Mexico when she was 5, and has grown up in a neighborhood stricken with gang violence, poverty, and poor education. She comes from a large family and, on top of going to school full time and serving her community, she has worked since she was 12 to help pay some of the family bills, and also takes care of her younger siblings.

The annual scholarship — named for recently retired SMC President Dr. Chui L. Tsang — is awarded based on a combination of academic achievement, financial need, and the student’s own academic and personal journey. Scholarship candidates are nominated by SMC faculty and staff members and reviewed by a campus committee, with this year’s final selection made by Dr. Tsang. In future years, the final selection will rest with the committee.

“I am so proud to award this year’s scholarship to Cinthia,” Dr. Tsang said. “Santa Monica College is deeply committed to providing its students with an education that moves them forward in life. Cinthia stood out as a leader from the day she arrived at SMC. I am sure she will be the winner that we all think she can be!”

The scholarship relieves Magaña of a lot of the worry about taking on an immense financial burden when she transfers. Her family is unable to contribute to her financial support, and her undocumented status makes her ineligible for any federal financial aid.

Although Maga√±a used to be embarrassed and frustrated by her immigration status, she has learned to use it to empower not just herself, but others in a similar situation. “My experiences as an undocumented college student have been constructive, at times painful, but overall have helped me realize the power of a higher education,” she said. “Learning has been the driving force for building the life my parents wanted for their children.”

In her own neighborhood, Magaña continues to mentor and spearhead scholarship workshops for high school students. She also serves as event organizer and community liaison for the Association of Higher Education for Active Dreamers (AHEAD), a Santa Monica organization providing workshops to assist underserved communities.

The Tsang Transfer Scholarship comes as SMC celebrates the high number of its students accepted into prestigious universities for this fall. SMC has, for the past 24 years, been the No. 1 transfer institution to the University of California system.

Santa Monica College is a California Community College accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

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