September 5, 2023

How 25 first-gen students got a 4-year scholarship

Meet Kessler Scholars Collaborative’s Class of 2027 cohort

Author: Malinn Loeung
September 5, 2023

Members of UC Riverside’s first cohort of Undergraduate Education’s Kessler Scholars will start their higher education journey, like other first-years, this fall. But what sets them apart from most students is they will have some of their UC tuition covered by the Kessler Scholar Collaborative, which is funded by the Fred & Judy Wilpon Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies.  

The program will assist each student with a $500 quarterly scholarship, or $1,500 a year, over four years. 

This will be the first of four cohorts to take part in the $1 million award aimed at fostering first-generation success. The funds will be distributed over the next four academic years, through 2023-27, with 52% going toward direct student aid and 47% covering programmatic costs, like staffing, trips, marketing, campus gear, etc. 

“We are thrilled to welcome the inaugural cohort of 25 Kessler Scholars to UC Riverside,” said Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Student Success, Robert Ream. “Our high-touch program celebrates and builds upon first-generation students’ assets and strengths. The program provides a supportive space for academic and personal growth so that historically underserved students with promise can develop their own voice, leadership capabilities, and fulfill their professional goals.”  

The selection committee chose these 25 students from more than 8,000 first-year students who identified as first-gen on their UCR applications. Students from across all majors/disciplines, races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds were considered. The only criteria were that no one else in their family had obtained a college degree at the time of the selection process and they needed to demonstrate a financial need. More than half of the students are Pell Grant recipients, and all are from California. 

UCR’s Kessler Scholar Programs coordinator, Ebony Miles, said her goal with this program is to, “identify what first-gen students need, provide them with it, and make sure they feel part of the bigger community.” Miles, who was a first-gen student, plans to support these students through a “high-touch program intentionality with a lot of engaged interactions.”  

A Kessler Scholars reception is scheduled for Sept. 7 for program organizers, leaders, and scholars. 

Meet some of the 2023 UCR Kessler Scholars 

“Thank you for seeing something in people like me who need help coming to a brand-new environment and being a helpful hand during these changing times. If anyone is thinking of applying, I would say, do it. The application process is really easy and inviting and it gives you a better chance to highlight yourself as a potential leader for people with similar communities.”  - Christopher Sanchez, pre-business, CHASS, class of 2027 

“I believe the program’s impact will be significant. Having a new range of opportunities that may not have been accessible due to being low-income will definitely catapult me toward success. To those who made this award possible, thank you for recognizing the need for programs like these and advocating for first-gen college students because we truly appreciate it.” - Vanessa Makhlouf, biology, CNAS, class of 2027 

“Financial struggles have always been an obstacle in my life, and to be a part of UC Riverside's first cohort is truly a blessing, so my thanks and gratitude go to those behind the scenes who made this program possible.” - Allen Villagomez, biology, CNAS, class of 2027 

“With this scholarship, I can pursue my goals of higher education without the burden of financial stresses distracting me. I am so grateful for this opportunity and want to thank all those involved who made this possible for me. I am excited to get to know others like myself who are also first-generation students.” - Josiah Saavedra-Flores, bioengineering, BCOE, class of 2027 

“To the people who made this possible. I thank you more than I can say for giving someone who comes from a difficult background the chance to prove I can do better than the way that I started. Even though I came from a start that was unstable and financially difficult I still managed to get into college and into this program, proving that I am going to do better than how I started. Though we are the first group to actually get this opportunity at UCR, I really hope that we aren't the last. I can't wait to be the student guide for future students in this program.” - Imani Carter, mathematical sciences, CNAS, class of 2027 

Kessler Scholars and Coordinator: Lizeth Espiritu, Itzel Morales, Reymarr Bernier, Vanessa Makhlouf, Ebony Miles, Jewel Mize, and Daniel Rodriguez (left to right)

Along with financial support, the scholars will receive academic coaching, personalized mentoring, engaging workshops, community building, social engagements, career guidance, and leadership development. Participants will also be required to meet twice per quarter individually with the program coordinator, participate in peer mentoring, attend two group workshops or activities per quarter, and participate in high-impact programs and community service. 

Future incoming undergrads interested in the UCR Kessler Scholars Program can visit or contact 

Media Contacts

RSS Feeds