“Money can’t buy happiness, but money can help a kid get an education.” So says Sammy Cibulka ’23, and he should know: The broadcast journalism graduate relied on scholarship funding to help close the gap for his University of Arizona experience. As the cost of education rises, scholarships make the university competitive for high-merit scholars and accessible to top students without means.
“We reach populations that include a high percentage of first-generation college students,” says Dante Lauretta ’93, Regents Professor of Planetary Science and Cosmochemistry and principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission. “It is a daunting prospect when you look at the bills and expenses. I would have never gone to the University of Arizona if I had not gotten a scholarship.”
Lauretta and his wife, Katherine Crombie, are among the many donors who have made scholarships a philanthropic priority. University of Arizona Foundation President JP Roczniak shares a story about an Arizona Assurance scholar who showed her two sisters that college was possible. “Even one student, one person from one family going to college can help change that family,” he says. “When you change a family, you change a community.”
Read on to learn about six scholarship recipients reaching for their academic and career dreams.
Danielle Nead-Work (Garcia Family Foundation scholar)
Scholarships unlocked the door for Danielle Nead-Work ’23 to pursue her greatest ambitions. “It has always been my dream to travel around the world,” she says. “To get to study fashion in three different countries with some of the best professors that I have had was the experience of a lifetime.”
Nead-Work double-majored in law and fashion industries science and technology, with a minor in Spanish, and was among the first cohort of Garcia scholars, who graduated in spring 2023. The Garcia Family Foundation established the Garcia scholarship program for W.A. Franke Honors College students in 2020 with the goal of making education more accessible and ensuring that students graduate with a global perspective.
Thanks to the tuition assistance, Garcia scholars can focus fully on their schoolwork and take part in more extracurriculars than they might be able to if they also had to financially support themselves. A participant in Arizona Mock Trial, Nead-Work says she’s glad she could explore her academic interests instead of worrying about how she would pay for school.
“I’d like to study and work in fashion sustainability law, which is a new and developing field,” she says. Nead-Work plans to attend law school in pursuit of this goal.
In addition to offsetting the cost of tuition, Garcia scholarships provide travel stipends for up to two international study abroad experiences. That opportunity was a game-changer for Nead-Work.
“Because of this experience, I hope to one day live and work in Europe, in one of the amazing places that we studied in. My favorite was Paris,” she says. “I probably would not have been able to take part in this opportunity if it weren’t for the Garcia Family Foundation Scholarship, and I am so grateful that I was able to do it.”
Crystal Vo (R. Ken Coit scholar)
Crystal Vo ’25 hopes, through her studies, to honor the courage of her parents. In their late teens, Vo says, her mother and father left Vietnam for the United States to build a life in Portland, Oregon. She was born there, though her family moved to Arizona when she was 10.
Today, Vo is halfway through her doctoral program at the R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy – Phoenix. The aspiring pediatric pharmacist holds leadership positions in eight campus organizations. She works at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and, last spring, joined Rho Chi honor society.
“What I’m personally most proud of is probably being able to receive a college education,” Vo, an R. Ken Coit scholar, says. “To get a higher education was something that I always wanted to accomplish — just ensuring that my parents’ sacrifices to come over here were worth it.”
Vo has made the most of her higher-education journey, and the Coit scholarship has helped. It has enabled Vo to actively participate in her doctoral program — and not only while in class. Last year, alongside schoolmates, she organized health fairs in Maricopa County towns lacking access to providers, screening hundreds of patients for cholesterol levels, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and depression.
At one fair, Vo met a woman with diabetes who’d stopped taking her medication because she felt all right. Vo and a preceptor convinced her to visit her doctor. In such moments, Vo says, she can see the difference she is making in the community.
In school, she has two years down, two to go. And at the moment, she says, “It kind of just feels like all my hard work has been paying off.”
Sarah Wolff (W.A. Franke scholar)
Health care has been a calling for Sarah Wolff ’26 since her mother fought cancer in 2016, which is why going to a college or university with an excellent medical program was, for her, nonnegotiable. Wolff cites the University of Arizona’s “incredible” educational offerings for med school students as the main reason she became a Wildcat. Beyond that, she says, the W.A. Franke Honors College drew Wolff in because she admired how research is integrated into the honors experience.
This fall, Wolff enters her sophomore year as a physiology and medical sciences major with a double minor in biochemistry and Spanish. She has a passion, she says, for learning about the human body.
“There truly is a whole universe under our skin that functions solely to keep us alive,” she says. “I find it completely fascinating to learn about the intricacies of how our bodies work, especially what they do when something is not functioning properly.”
Of her full-tuition support, Wolff says, “I am extremely fortunate and grateful to the generous donors who invest in college students like me. If it was not for these scholarships, I would not be able to afford college. It is my dream to become a doctor, so these scholarships mean everything to me. They allow me to focus solely on studying what I am passionate about and building my dream career, and I will be forever grateful for this.”
FUEL WONDER SCHOLARSHIPS FAST FACTS
To date, Wildcats have raised a total of $233 million to support scholarships and student success during the Fuel Wonder campaign.
Sebo Diaz (Thomas R. Brown Foundations scholar)
Someday, Sebo Diaz ’23 might go to medical school, but for now, he’s pursuing his doctorate in medical engineering and physics, with a focus on MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging. The University of Arizona graduate moved to Boston just a month after earning his bachelor’s to join a research lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For Diaz, however, the life changes don’t feel abrupt. That’s because he’s been in labs since he was 18 and has pitched in with his MIT research group since the summer of 2021.
“I sort of already started my Ph.D. the past two years,” he says, even if he didn’t know it then.
In Tucson, Diaz found valued mentors in Arthur Gmitro, department head of biomedical engineering, and Jennifer Barton, director of the BIO5 Institute. Gmitro gave him the “sky-level view” of life as a researcher; steering the complex work of multiple labs toward common goals, Barton provided a superb example of leadership. Then, there was professor Nan-kuei Chen, who showed him the ins and outs of the MRI field.
Diaz says that the university offers undergraduate research opportunities uncommon elsewhere. He calls those chances to explore “invaluable,” especially as he begins to work exclusively on MRI, which he became interested in as a teenager.
“There’s a lot of hidden stuff within our body,” he says, “and we can’t necessarily see it through normal means. We need to look deeper.”
Beginning in his first year, Diaz received a scholarship from the Thomas R. Brown Foundations, which offer awards through the College of Engineering, the Eller College of Management and Arizona Assurance. The award was his largest at the university, and he graduated without debt.
At MIT, he’s funded fully. Medical school might be different, he says, but for now, he’s set.
Samantha Guerrero (Sandra Aley scholar)
Samantha Guerrero ’24, a biology major and premed student, spends her spare time as a hospital volunteer. She’s training to be a medical professional thanks in part to the Sandra, Pamela, and Polly Aley Scholarship.
Donor Sandra Aley ’77 was an alumna of Flowing Wells High School, located on Tucson’s northwest side, and the University of Arizona. The first in her immediate family to attend college, Aley died of pancreatic cancer in January 2020. A $4.6 million gift from her estate created the scholarship, which was named in honor of Aley, her sister, Pamela, and her mother, Polly.
“It’s a beautiful gift,” Guerrero says. “The scholarship has helped me get through college without taking out loans and without having to worry about money.”
In 2021, Guerrero’s father experienced complications from COVID-19. “My mom and I helped him recover. Seeing what he has gone through and seeing how a medical condition can change a person’s whole life motivated me even more to become a medical professional and work to prevent illness,” Guerrero says.
Her scholarship award came as a surprise — and a relief. Guerrero was planning her finances leading up to her first fall semester when she realized that she still needed $6,000 in meritbased aid. “I was worried about having to take out a loan,” she says. “And then I received a text message that I got approved for a $6,000 scholarship. And it was this scholarship. I was surprised because it was the last $6,000 I needed.
“I was really grateful. And I’m pretty sure it’s helped a lot of other students. I am happy that they’re able to help so many people aside from me.”
Jaiden and Sophie Singh (Baird Foundation scholars)
When Sophie Singh ’26 was offered a Baird scholarship, the first person she called was her big brother. That’s because Jaiden Singh ’24 understood what the award meant, being a Baird scholar himself.
They knew of siblings who’d previously been members of the Baird community — a small one, with six students per year — and were “very hopeful that it might happen again,” Jaiden says. “It was so exciting,” says Sophie.
The Singhs, raised in Glendale, mirror each other beyond their scholarship, which covers tuition and fees, carries merit aid, and comes with an invitation to the W.A. Franke Honors College. Jaiden majors in law and public health. All year, he’s worked for the Pima County Health Department, first through AmeriCorps and now as a policy intern. Sophie, for her part, hopes someday to enroll in medical school and volunteers through Street Medicine Tucson.
“We have a mobile clinic, and we go out to different parks in Tucson and set up our clinic. And people who are homeless or just need a checkup can come in, and we provide that for free,” she says, mentioning that she’d like to be able to assist Spanish-language clients, too — something her minor in Spanish, one Jaiden also has pursued, will help her to do. Both siblings also volunteer through the Wildcat chapter of Active Minds.
Along with their other involvements — Jaiden serves as secretary general of Arizona Model United Nations, and Sophie is in the club for her major, medicine — they both love being a part of the Baird community while navigating the challenges of college. They say they’ve enjoyed the chance to build closer relationships and spend time with their cohorts, enjoying the Wildcat experience in its fullest.