Cover Story 

Estudiantes Para Estudiantes

The rustle of backpacks, the tread of feet going up and down the main staircase, the clicking of fingers tapping on keyboards—all these are familiar sounds on  college campus. Yet, the tall bright windows and open spaces of Donnelly’s new academic building seem to bring them to life in a powerful new way. Among the students who are already benefitting from this amazing new learning environment are Daniel Zavala and Rubi Perez Vazquez. In addition to being two of the founding members of the new Students for Social Justice club, both Zavala and Vazquez, along with seven other Donnelly students, received scholarships from the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund (HDF). Donnelly has a long history of partnering with HDF, whose mission is to improve the quality of life of Latino families in Greater Kansas City by engaging the Latino community in philanthropy to build stronger communities through grantmaking and scholarship support. In 2020, HDF distributed nearly $700,000 in scholarship funds to qualifying students across the metro. Donnelly is one of 19 institutions that match scholarship dollars received from HDF. Each year HDF engages the students that received scholarships and their campuses in raising funds for future students in a campaign called Cambio para Cambio (Change for Change). This fall, Donnelly students, even those that do not receive HDF funds, were excited for an opportunity to give back and support current and future Hispanic students. Led by the Students for Social Justice club, Donnelly students raised nearly $6,000 for the HDF scholarship fund.

Sacrificing for a Brighter Future

This time last year, freshman Daniel Zavala was six months into working full-time with his father’s landscaping company after graduating from Olathe South High School in May 2019. Working alongside men twice his age doing backbreaking work, Zavala began to yearn for a brighter future and knew a college education should be his next step. Not only did he want an education and a change of career, Zavala also wanted to break the seemingly unending cycle of poverty faced by undocumented Latino men in his family. As the youngest in his family, Zavala wanted to show his younger cousins that college is for everyone, including them. He also wanted to make his family proud and show them that a college degree is worth the sacrifices it requires. No one in his family had ever applied to college before, so he wasn’t sure where to start. Zavala had also researched the sticker price of a bachelor’s degree from the average four-year university and knew it was something he could not afford. Despite these obstacles, he was determined to find a way to make college work. He remembered his aunt mentioning that Donnelly College was affordable, so he investigated and was delighted that, in addition to the HDF scholarship, Donnelly offered an additional scholarship to help with costs. Within just a few weeks of enrolling at Donnelly, Zavala had cultivated strong connections with his classmates and helped create a new club on campus, Students for Social Justice. To support the HDF Cambia para Cambia campaign, the club organized a fall fundraiser with food trucks, events and more.

For the first time, Zavala feels like he truly belongs in a school environment. He finds comfort in the diversity surrounding him on campus, and he feels like he has finally begun to find himself. Although his freshman year is only half over, Zavala already describes his experience at Donnelly as life changing: “It’s the first time in my life I can say that I’m proud of myself, and I can take ownership of my accomplishments.” Lisa Stoothoff, Dean of the College said of Zavala, “When Daniel submitted his first journal reflection in my CCS101 course this semester, I knew that he was destined to be a leader on campus. He has a passion for learning and has fully immersed himself into the culture of Donnelly College.” After finishing his associate degree at Donnelly, Zavala plans to obtain a bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and become a police officer and, eventually, a police chief.

An Aspiring Entrepreneur

Freshman Rubi Perez Vazquez is a resident of Independence, Missouri and 2020 graduate of Van Horn High School. During high school, Vazquez worked hard both in and out of the classroom. She waitressed up to six days a week at various Mexican restaurants in her community. While she knew she wanted to go to college, she also realized that she loved sharing her culture through food. This realization led Vazquez to think about starting her own food service business, and she didn’t wait long. By August 2020, she had started a shaved ice stand selling raspados—fancy Mexican ice drinks blended with spices and fresh fruit. In a matter of months, Rubi’s Raspados KC was born! While operating a business has been an education in itself, Vazquez knew she needed to continue her formal education as well. She decided to enroll in Donnelly’s associate degree program where, in addition to core courses, she can complete coursework in business management, finance, leadership and human resources. Balancing her business and tuition costs has been easier due to the help she received through an HDF scholarship and additional funding from Donnelly. Along with Zavala and others, Vazquez has worked hard to help start the Students for Social Justice club. To support the HDF Cambia para Cambia fundraiser, Rubi’s Raspados sold product on campus during the fall fundraiser and donated the proceeds to the campaign. Paula Console-┼×oican, assistant professor of English and faculty sponsor of the Students for Social Justice club said, “Rubi is one of the most energetic, creative, and outspoken students on our campus. Even though she is not in any of my classes, I love working with her on social justice projects outside of class.” Vazquez loves the freedom of being her own boss as well as the freedom to schedule her work time around her Donnelly classes. She hopes that her business can be a catalyst for change in the community.

As we reflect on 70 years of providing educational opportunities in the heart of Kansas City, Kansas, we are grateful that our mission allows us to help students like Vazquez and Zavala realize their God-given potential. Donnelly is privileged to serve as a beacon of hope to these students and their classmates—future innovators and leaders in Wyandotte County and beyond. And we are proud to serve alongside partners such as the Hispanic Development Fund.

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