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United Way Bay Area opens new SparkPoint program at San Francisco State University

SF State Director of Food+Shelter+Success Christopher Lujan kicked off the SparkPoint launch event with opening remarks.

The latest SparkPoint program is the first located on a four-year university campus

SAN FRANCISCO — March 19, 2024 — Leaders with United Way Bay Area (UWBA) were joined today by San Francisco State University (SF State) officials, faculty and students for the opening of a new SparkPoint program on the college campus. SparkPoint is a cornerstone in UWBA’s poverty-fighting efforts where clients create pathways to long-term financial prosperity by working with free, expert financial coaches to set goals, create financial plans and learn new strategies for long-term financial success. 

SF State students and members of the community will access financial coaching and wrap-around services through the new SparkPoint program, which marks the 24th SparkPoint program throughout the region powered by United Way Bay Area, and the first at a four-year institution of higher learning. Expert financial coaches work with students to set goals, create long-term financial plans and teach new strategies for long-term financial success. SparkPoint centers also provide a variety of free resources such as one-on-one career coaching, tax preparation and credit counseling.

“United Way Bay Area is thrilled to open this SparkPoint program at SF State, and we’re excited to see the impact these services and resources will have for the students and families who need them the most,” said Nicole Harden, Vice President of Economic Success for United Way Bay Area. “These scholars are doing the work to create pathways to prosperity for themselves and their families, and we are happy to be here cheering them on and providing the wrap-around services needed to support them through our SparkPoint program.” 

In addition to financial coaching and resources, students and families can also receive resources to meet basic needs like food, housing and utilities. SparkPoint services are provided at no cost. Institutions of higher learning often serve as the venue where people begin their path out of poverty and start the journey toward financial security and prosperity.

“We take pride in helping our students achieve upward social mobility and this new SparkPoint program will ensure more students can attain that,” SF State Associate Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Miguel Hernández said. “That’s because when students have their basic needs met, they are more likely to perform well academically and ultimately graduate.”

According to research, students who cannot consistently meet their basic needs — like food and housing — often cope with these challenges by dropping classes, working more hours and even skipping semesters, all of which makes them less likely to complete their degrees or skills training. 1 in 4 students at community colleges regularly can’t afford three meals per day, and many are the first in their families to enroll in school. 

According to quantitative research released by United Way Bay Area, the SparkPoint program measurably improves student persistence and advancement compared to students not receiving support through the program. Students who participated in SparkPoint were 127% more likely to remain enrolled in college. 

The new SparkPoint program at SF State is located at Centennial Village, 750 Font Blvd., Suite 5000, San Francisco, CA 94132.

Students and families can visit the SparkPoint program during normal operating hours, or email for further information and assistance. 


About United Way Bay Area

United Way Bay Area (UWBA) mobilizes the Bay Area to assist people living in poverty and to dismantle the root causes of poverty. One of the most respected and highly effective philanthropic organizations fighting poverty, UWBA supports workers and students seeking employment and better careers, helps families struggling to meet basic needs, supports our neighbors toward achieving their financial stability goals, and advocates for housing justice for all Bay Area residents. Learn more at  

About San Francisco State University

San Francisco State University is a public university serving students from the San Francisco Bay Area, across California and around the world, with nationally acclaimed programs that span a broad range of disciplines. More than 23,000 students enroll at the University each year, and its nearly 287,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond. Through them — and more than 1,900 world-class faculty members — SF State proudly embraces its legacy of academic excellence, community engagement and commitment to social justice. For more information, visit

Family ties: how an SF State education changed everything for two sisters

Despite a childhood rocked by trauma, Theresa Gamboa (B.A., ’21) and her twin sister Alexandria Singh (B.A., ’22) are facing the future with optimism, determination and forgiveness

When she was 15 years old, Theresa Gamboa made a phone call that changed her life. It was a change for the better ... eventually. But it also led to consequences and chaos she had to deal with for years.

Gamboa’s call was to the police. She was reporting her father — a meth addict and gang member — for abuse.

Gamboa ended up in the foster care system. Her father ended up in prison.

It’s a story most people might be anxious to put behind them. But Gamboa — who graduated from SF State in 2021 with a degree in Business Administration — isn’t most people. She’s committed to telling her story again and again, even hiring a speech coach to help her develop it into a TEDx talk.

“I’m not going to let any of my pain go to waste,” she says. “I’m going to use my business skills and what I’ve been through to make an impact. That’s my calling now.”

That doesn’t mean telling her story is easy. Recalling the details can be difficult.

“It goes blank due to all the trauma,” she says.

But she does remember the optimism she felt walking onto the campus of San Jose City College at the age of 16. Despite the disarray of her life — bouncing from one foster home to another after turning in her father — she’d managed to graduate early from high school. She recalls thinking of education as her “golden ticket out,” and she was anxious to use it.

“There were so many issues in high school. I just wanted to be somewhere where people were there because they wanted to be, not because they were forced to with a chip on their shoulder, ready to fight,” she says. “I didn’t want any of that. I was already experiencing that at home.”

SF State and Some Pivotal Help

Unfortunately, though the desire to get an education was there, the skills weren’t. Neither was the support she needed.

“There was nothing good going for me,” she says. “I just had negative news after negative news — moving from foster home to foster home, and I couldn’t see my parents legally.”

Things turned around for Gamboa when she began getting academic and life skills support from Pivotal, a San Jose-based nonprofit that serves youth in the foster care system. Though Gamboa aged out of the system at 18, Pivotal continued to provide support — including help applying to SF State when Gamboa realized she wasn’t connecting to the nursing classes she’d been taking at San Jose City College.

“What drew me to San Francisco State was the business program,” says Gamboa, who also received scholarship support from Pivotal for her switch to SF State. “I fell in love with business. It ignited a real passion. … My motivation went from a five to a 10.”

Gamboa particularly responded to the teaching of Smita Trivedi, an associate professor in the Lam Family College of Business whose specialties include sustainable business practices and female entrepreneurs from impoverished backgrounds.

“I’m passionate about helping other people. So it’s really important to me [for business] to make a benefit to me and the person on the other side,” Gamboa says. “She showed me the importance of doing business the right way.”

After graduating, Gamboa landed a job as a marketing coordinator at Afero, a Silicon Valley tech company that develops internet connection software for clients like Home Depot. Gamboa says she loves it.

“I am pumped,” she says. “I literally couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

She shares that happy ending with others through the talks she regularly gives on behalf of Pivotal. Reliving her childhood isn’t exactly fun, but she’s determined to show other foster youth they can change their lives. She can already point to one who followed in her footsteps: her twin sister, Alexandria Singh.

Double Trouble

Singh (who got married and took her husband’s last name last year) graduated from SF State with a B.A. in Criminal Justice in December. Singh says she and her sister were inseparable as children.

“We were just double trouble. Always together,” she says.

That changed dramatically when Gamboa called the police on their father. For a time, Singh remained in their parents’ household after Gamboa was removed.

“I was stuck at the house alone with a lot of abuse and neglect,” Singh remembers. “I was like, ‘Hey! Call the cops on me! I don’t want to be here!’ So I eventually made that happen.”

Years later, Singh followed in her sister’s footsteps once again — on the path to SF State. Though Singh finished her degree from Miami, where her doctor husband began his residency last year, she and Gamboa have begun another important journey together — the one to forgiveness. Both sisters have been in contact with their parents and say they bear them no ill will.

“When we tell people our story, people tend to hate our parents,” Singh says. “We don’t want that at all. Me and my sister, we don’t want to harvest bitterness. That’s like a stone that drags you down. We genuinely love our parents, and we forgive them.”

SF State named a 2022 – 2023 College of Distinction

The University was honored for its commitment to helping undergraduates learn and grow in several categories

Colleges of Distinction, a unique guide for college-bound students, has recognized San Francisco State University for its commitment to helping undergraduate students learn, grow and succeed. San Francisco State was named a 2022 – 2023 College of Distinction, California College of Distinction and Public College of Distinction. Aside from these overall undergraduate recognitions, the University also earned additional recognition in the areas of BusinessEngineeringNursingCareer DevelopmentEquity & Inclusion and Military Support.

“This recognition by Colleges of Distinction represents what we already know: SF State is a place where our students thrive,” said SF State Senior Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management Katie Lynch. “We are proud to have the good work of our faculty, staff, administration and students recognized and for word to get out to future Gators.”

Since 2000, Colleges of Distinction has been a trusted resource for students, parents and guidance counselors. The Colleges of Distinction selection process comprises a sequence of in-depth research and detailed interviews with the schools, accepting only those that adhere to the Four Distinctions: Engaged Students, Great Teaching, Vibrant Community and Successful Outcomes. These principles are all informed by the High-Impact Practices to prioritize the ways that institutions enable students to have a fulfilling, individualized college experience both inside and outside of the classroom.

SF State is a public university serving students from the San Francisco Bay Area, across California and around the world, with nationally acclaimed programs that span a broad range of disciplines. More than 25,000 students enroll at the University each year, and its more than 280,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond.

Learn more about SF State’s academic programs, campus, student life opportunities and admissions process.