"There's a future for everyone,"
says Fresno Pacific University senior Martha Silva. The future looks bright for Silva, who has been awarded more than $10,000 as a Gates Millennium Scholar and plans to graduate in May with a double major in liberal studies-BCLAD and Spanish.
The Gates Millennium Scholarship was created in the fall of 1999 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to minimize financial barriers for 20,000 students pursuing a college education, particularly for those studying in mathematics, science, engineering, education or library science. Recipients are hardworking, high-achieving students from low-income minority families. The first 4,000 scholarships were awarded during the 2000-2001 school year and 1,000 awards will be given each year after. Award amounts are based on the cost of student tuition, fees, books and living expenses, along with the availability of additional student financial aid.
Silva applied for the scholarship in the spring of 2000 under the encouragement of Irma Montemayor, administrative assistant for Project VOICE, a program for aspiring bilingual Hmong and Hispanic teachers, at Fresno Pacific Graduate School. Silva was surprised to receive her acceptance letter last summer. "I opened the envelope, started reading it, and didn't realize that a check was in there," she says. The check was for more than $5,000, with the remaining half to come for the spring semester.
Silva's educational pursuit has been marked by challenges. After spending much of her childhood in Mexico City, she moved to the United States with her grandparents in 1969 at the age of 11. While her family labored in the fields, Silva's labors in the classroom were hampered by language barriers and the unfamiliar coed atmosphere. A half-year later, Silva chose fieldwork over schoolwork, but never abandoned her love for learning. "I always had the desire to go back to school," says Silva, "but I was afraid to because of the bad experience I had."
Marriage and children did not dull the itch for learning. Silva graduated with honors as a certified nurse assistance, completed her GED and took a series of medical classes in hopes of finding direction. "I needed to break this mold," says Silva. "I knew I wanted to study, but I didn't know what I wanted to go for."
Silva began taking college courses at Reedley College in 1996, where she also tutored in English as a Second Language classes and found her call to teach. Students frequently found Silva during breaks or called her at home for instruction, and with the help of mentors Silva says she discovered her gift for teaching.
Reputation and advertising brought Silva to Fresno Pacific University two years ago. A flyer promoting Project VOICE attracted Silva's attention. Two years later, she is in her final semester of undergraduate studies and intends to continue her fifth-year teacher education program at the university.
FPU has not been merely an academic institution for Silva, but a spiritual one as well. "I got closer to God," says Silva. She credits the biblical principals included in courses for making this possible.
For the many honors and financial rewards she has received, Silva remains humble. In fact, she is hesitant to share her story for fear of appearing self-glorifying. What Silva does want to pass on is a message of encouragement. "Don't give up, try your best, and God is always there for us when we need him."