When alumna Jacki Wells Cisneros and her husband, Gilbert Cisneros, won the Mega Millions lottery in 2010, they vowed to give back to their church and alma maters.
They have followed through with that pledge by establishing the $1 million Wells Cisneros Scholarship at USC Annenberg, which will be given to promising students who have been admitted to one of the School's undergraduate programs.
"We are extremely proud and grateful that a member of the USC Annenberg family has chosen to give back to her School in such an impactful way," Dean Ernest J. Wilson III said. "The scholarships will help us tremendously in our ongoing efforts toward greater ethnic diversity in our classrooms. Jacki and Gilbert are touching the lives of unending future generations of Trojans through their philanthropy."
Award recipients must demonstrate strong interest in the field of journalism, communication, public relations or public diplomacy. Extra consideration will be given to students who are of Latin-American descent, from the state of California and who have a demonstrated financial need. The $25,000 scholarship is renewable each year, provided that the students achieve standards set by the faculty and maintain a 3.0 GPA.
"Gilbert and I both really value education," Wells Cisneros said. "Latino students have a lower graduation rate in college, and we feel it's often because of financial reasons. We want to allow them to take finances out of the equation so they can get the education they desire."
The couple also hopes to extend their generosity beyond financial aid to the students—they want to be mentors as well.
"It's not about, 'Hey, here's some money,'" she said. "We've been in the situations these students will be in and want to be here for them. We can share our experiences, knowledge and hopefully help them make good life decisions."
Cisneros added that his wife would be an especially helpful resource to a student interested in broadcast journalism because she has years of experience in the field. She is a long-time newswoman who finished her shift at NBC even after finding out that she and her husband won the $266 million jackpot.
“I can’t imagine not working," she said. "It’s a foreign concept to me. I'm too young to retire."
The first Wells Cisneros Scholarship will be awarded to a student entering in the 2011-12 academic year, and another recipient will be added the following year. Because the Wells Cisneros Scholarship is endowed, the USC Annenberg School will be able to have two recipients on a permanent basis.
"Meeting that first student will be so cool," Wells Cisneros said. "I'm excited to watch him or her grow and develop. Being able to fund scholarships like these really make us feel like we're making a real difference."
The Cisneroses have also made financial contributions to numerous other institutions, including The George Washington University (Gilbert’s alma mater), the California Chicano News Media Association, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital, St. Hillary Church in Pico Rivera and the Newman Catholic Student Center at GW.
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