Drea Alonzo 鈥26 and Veronica Ba帽uelos 鈥24 Advocate for More College Access

Drea Alonzo, left, and Veronica Banuelos on campus

Like many teenagers in Salinas, Calif., Drea Alonzo 鈥26 thought the only option a first-generation, low-income high school graduate had to pursue higher education was the local community college.

鈥淚 come from an immigrant family,鈥 the 19-year-old says. 鈥淢y parents didn鈥檛 have any resources or money to send me to a four-year institution without me having to get a part-time job or them picking up more jobs.鈥

Only when Alonzo learned about the Cal Grant program did she see all her options.

Now in her second year at 麻豆影视, Alonzo is among a cohort of students advocating for increased funding for the Cal Grant program so first-generation, low-income high school graduates can attend a California college based on preference rather than cost.

Such students often 鈥渄on鈥檛 have money to go UCs or CSUs, let alone independent colleges like Pomona,鈥 says Alonzo, a politics and Chicana/o-Latina/o studies double major. 鈥淚ncreasing Cal Grant funding would make it a lot easier and less of a burden to look at the price tag of quality colleges in California.鈥

A Cal Grant is state aid for college that students do not need to pay back. Grant amounts vary depending on the college and the student鈥檚 qualifications.

In February, Alonzo and Veronica Ba帽uelos 鈥24 for the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities鈥 annual Day at the Capitol, where those in the higher education group shared with state decision-makers how valuable financial aid is to a large swath of students.

鈥淚n high school, I felt helpless,鈥 Alonzo says. 鈥淎s a low-income person of color, I felt there was only so much I could do myself to make change. Through programs like these I get a megaphone for my voice, which is very empowering.鈥

Ba帽uelos, a former PAYS student by way of San Bernardino, Calif., started advocating for her community while in high school, serving in her local assemblymember鈥檚 Young Legislators Program for teens.

As a child of immigrants, the philosophy, politics and economics major says, 鈥淚鈥檝e always seen a gap between those governing and those being governed鈥攚hether at the local, state or federal level.鈥

鈥淭he Day at the Capitol,鈥 Ba帽uelos adds, 鈥渨as an opportunity to bridge those communities, and was especially important for me as a first-generation student to bring a voice to not just my hometown and my college, but also my friends and family. It was also meaningful for me to bring my story to the attention of people who have the power to change my life and the lives of those in my community.鈥

Much like Alonzo, Ba帽uelos is passionate about college access and educational equity.

The 22-year-old has worked at Pomona鈥檚 Draper Center since her first year at the College. As a program coordinator at Draper, she encourages those of similar backgrounds in and around the community to realize there is value in the uniqueness of their stories.

鈥淎s I鈥檝e immersed myself in my degree,鈥 Ba帽uelos says, 鈥渁s I鈥檝e engaged in more internships outside Pomona, I鈥檝e been intentional about returning to my community to share my knowledge and encourage other students to take advantage of and thrive in institutions and spaces where they鈥檙e underrepresented.鈥