Presidential Scholars program features service-minded freshmen

Eleven SF State male and female freshmen pose in front of a wall.

Eleven of the 12 members of SF State’s new Presidential Scholars class gather at a recent event marking the beginning of the fall semester.

Four-year scholarship includes social justice workshops, cultural events, community service

Faith Ewere was born and raised in Nigeria, moved to the United States with her family in 2013 and as a teenager learned to navigate a new educational system through trial and error.

“It was so rough because I was on my own,” she said. “I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t know about the resources that were available to me.”

But she did well at her Oakland high school, and as graduation neared, a counselor urged her to apply to a scholarship program at San Francisco State University that emphasized community service. Ewere had a good GPA, had volunteered for a summer in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and would need financial help for her university studies.

“I sent an email and wrote a few essays and when I got in, I said, ‘OK, I’ll go for it,’” she said.

Now Ewere is one of 12 students taking part in the Presidential Scholars program, the University’s most distinguished academic award for first-time freshmen. The four-year scholarship ensures funding for tuition and fees, housing and meals. All students are housed in a living-learning community on the same dormitory floor and will engage in monthly service-learning projects, cultural awareness events and workshops focusing on social justice, academic achievement and civic engagement. Each student will also study abroad during their junior year.

Admission is based on academic and personal achievement, extracurricular activities in high school and the community, leadership potential and the ability to express oneself effectively. It is open to first-time freshmen and California residents only. 

“These students have distinguished themselves both academically and in areas of community service,” said Andrew Jolivette, an American Indian Studies professor who is the faculty coordinator for the program. “At SF State, they will act as student ambassadors at their colleges and will support various initiatives focused on service-learning and civic engagement.”

The other scholars in this year’s class are Christopher Jones of Compton; Kena DeLong of Santa Cruz; Talia Israel of San Diego; Imani Jackson of San Diego; Ocean Noah of Lawndale; Yatziry Luna-Palomo of Sonoma County; Miranda Pokorny of Petaluma; Willy Popoca Soto of Santa Barbara; Christian Suriben of Livermore; Alfonso Torres of Coarsegold; and Claire Weeks-Young of Los Angeles.

The program was founded in 1995 by then-SF State President Robert Corrigan. After the 2014-2015 school year, administrators worked to modernize the program to meet the current needs of students and to ensure its sustainability. It was revived for the 2017-2018 academic year. Philanthropic support for this program has been provided through the Osher Foundation, James Alan Ross, the Helene Z. Rodgers Trust and Y.F. Chang, the founder and chairman of Taiwanese conglomerate Evergreen Group.

Ewere said her family basically had nothing when they left Nigeria. Now she’s making plans to be a pediatric nurse practitioner after graduation.

“I’m from a low-income family, and going to SF State would not have been possible without this generous scholarship,” Ewere said. “Now I can focus on my education and won’t be distracted by the next tuition bill. The program will also help me build my leadership skills, push me out of my comfort zone and will ultimately make me more prepared for life and my career after college.”

The scholars are scheduled to visit the Museum of the African Diaspora later this month, the GLBT History Museum next month, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in November and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in December. More monthly cultural day trips are scheduled for the spring semester.