Skip to main content

Meet Our Scholars

Group photo of Chancellor's Associates Scholars

The Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship program is built on a commitment to diversity and inclusion, with outreach to high-achieving students from high schools, community colleges, organizations for underrepresented communities (such as Reality Changers), and students enrolled in federally recognized Native American tribes from all across California. 

Our exceptional awardees would like to share the incredible journeys that led them to UC San Diego: 

Meet our featured scholars

Brian Do ’22

Brian Do

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Brian Do ’22 had an eye opening as president of the UC San Diego Team Hepatitis B Club (Team HBV): the pandemic exposed natural barriers to vaccination that people face. In response, Brian initiated several community projects distributing food and hygiene supplies to the unhoused in downtown San Diego — a project that has continued for the last three years. He also led a successful vaccine clinic in partnership with the Social Assistance Program for Vietnam and UC San Diego Health, vaccinating more than 1,000 American Pacific Islander, refugee and immigrant community members.

Now, Brian is moving to Vietnam as a Fulbright Research Scholar, where he will conduct research within the local community to connect individuals with hepatitis to health care. His research will help catalyze other national governments to better link patients to vaccination and treatment around the globe. When he returns to the U.S. next summer, he plans to apply to medical school. Brian hopes that pursuing his medical degree and becoming a physician will allow him to continue giving back to the community that has done so much for him — a Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship not only allowed him to attend UC San Diego (his dream school), but also connected him with resources, like the Teaching + Learning Commons and CASP 101, that allowed him to succeed.

Nancy Ortiz Vega ’20

Nancy Ortiz Vega

Community is at the heart of education. Or at least, it has been for Nancy Ortiz Vega ’20. Her parents always valued education, and they did everything in their power to make sure she had what she needed to pursue college. When Nancy was admitted to UC San Diego, she found another supportive community in CASP, which allowed her to engage with campus life: She participated in MEChA, became a student mentor, studied abroad through Global Seminars, and played intramural soccer. But the most impactful community Nancy found came unexpectedly.

After a self-defense class hosted by John Muir College, Nancy was invited for a ride-along with the UC San Diego Police Department. The sense of teamwork and camaraderie led her to join the department as a student community service officer, primarily providing safety escorts through Triton Rides. And her experience inspired her to envision a career in law enforcement. Now, she is a first-generation college graduate, first-generation law enforcement officer, and is poised to become the first CASP graduate to work at the UC San Diego Police Department, a journey she hopes will motivate others — like her younger brother — to pursue their dreams fearlessly.


Mariana Valdivieso ’22

Mariana Valdivieso

The transition from high school to college is seldom as seamless as students might hope. But Mariana Valdivieso ’22 had a more jarring experience than most. Despite always envisioning herself attending San Diego State University, Mariana found herself enrolled at UC San Diego and in possession of a Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship. And it was a good thing, too. Her first weeks on campus made her homesick, and when the quarter began, she was overwhelmed by the new places, new people and new experiences.

Fortunately for Mariana, CASP was able to provide the support she needed to move forward. CASP program manager Belinda Zamacona was able to help Mariana formulate a plan, and with her strategy in hand, Mariana declared a linguistics major. But CASP also helped Mariana in other ways that inspired her to set new goals for her future. She worked first as a student assistant, then as a coordinator for the program, and the network she developed through CASP was critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mariana hopes to pursue a graduate degree in education so she can work in higher education and help students who are struggling to succeed like she was.


Learn more about our other scholars and graduates: 

Laura Castro, Preuss '14, '19

Picture of Chancellor's Associates Scholar, Laura Castro

Laura Castro is the first in her family to graduate college. “My parents are immigrants from Mexico and didn’t have the opportunity to continue their studies due to their financial hardships back home. As the eldest of three children, I helped set a foundation to encourage my younger siblings to also attend higher education,” says Castro.

She credits her teachers at The Preuss School UC San Diego for pushing her to achieve academic excellence through summer programs and eventually pursuing undergraduate degrees in political science and urban studies and planning from UC San Diego. Castro was shy when she started college, but the Chancellor's Associates Scholars Program (CASP) paired her with with another first-generation student, which helped her build confidence. Taking courses in astrobiology and acting, and pursuing new experiences like studying abroad, expanded her view of what was possible.

The scholarship meant more than having financial stability during my undergraduate career. I also had an amazing social network that I could tap into when I needed it,” says Castro. She found a mentor in Vice Chancellor Becky Petitt, who recommended her for grad school at Virginia Tech, where Castro is now pursuing a masters of urban planning in hopes of becoming a transportation planner.

Ngoc Trinh Tran Phung  '23

Picture of Chancellor's Associates scholar, Ngoc Trinh Tran Phung

Chancellor’s Associates scholar Ngoc Trinh Tran Phung ’23 is working toward her goal of becoming a dentist. Her hard work and her mother’s sacrifices set her on the path to success after their move from Vietnam nearly 20 years ago. At that time, they moved frequently, bouncing between babysitter’s and coworker’s houses. Even then, her mother found ways to provide for and support her. And Phung helped her mother with translations and paperwork, a skill that allowed her to pick up English quickly.  

When it was time to apply to college, Phung wanted to go to UC San Diego to stay close and take care of her mother but she didn’t get in. She got her associate’s degree from a community college and reapplied. “This time I got in! About a week after receiving my acceptance letter, I got another letter saying I am also receiving the Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship,” says Phung. “It was near Mother’s Day so my gift to my mom was to surprise her with the news. My mom and I have gone through a lot together, but we never showed our emotions in front of each other until that day. We broke down crying tears of joy, and it was the happiest I have ever seen my mom.”

Today, Phung is a biochemistry major at Muir College, the president of Transfers in Science and Tribe of Muir Transfers, and has an internship at a crown and bridge dental lab. This year, she’ll be a Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship Program (CASP) 101 summer intern and a CASP peer leader. “Receiving this scholarship has lifted a huge financial weight off my shoulders and allowed me to begin my college career debt-free,” says Phung. “As a low-income, first-generation college student, CASP has also provided me with resources and mentors to guide me towards my career goals.”

Jay Wilson '22

Picture of Chancellor's Associates scholar, Jay Wilson

For many CASP students, receiving the Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship provides more than a sense of relief from financial pressures — it offers unlimited opportunities. Instead of worrying about how they are going to pay for their education, students have the flexibility to explore and experience different opportunities and interests. “Over the past four years at UC San Diego, I have worked a number of student employee positions within Student Affairs such as being a Muir Orientation Leader, a CASP101 intern, and now as a Muir Housing Advisor,” shares Chancellor’s Associates Scholar Jay Wilson ’22.

The scholarship is also a source of comfort for parents and families. Jay noted that with his scholarship, his parents were able to direct their attention to helping his siblings achieve their dreams. “My parents and my siblings are some of my biggest supporters and my most important role models, so the fact that I was able to alleviate some of the pressures of college with the CASP scholarship was a huge relief for everyone.”

When asked what advice he would pass along to incoming CASP scholars, Jay was quick to reply. “I hope that future CASP students are able to recognize the privilege that this scholarship gives them and take full advantage of the opportunity and try new things — live out their life in a healthy balance of academic success, professional skill development, and socializing with their peers.”

Itzel Guadalupe Jimenez Jimenez ’25

Itzel Jimenez Headshot

Karen and Jeff Silberman Chancellor’s Associates Scholar

“The Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship has given me a chance to study and pursue my dream career,” says Itzel Guadalupe Jimenez Jimenez ’25, a first-year Chancellor’s Associates Scholar who recently graduated from Lincoln High School in San Diego. “While my dad would have been willing to take out a loan or work extra hours at his job to help me go to college, that’s the last thing I want to see my dad do.”

“Receiving this scholarship really means a lot to me because it is one less thing my family has to worry about.” A childhood memory of being in an emergency room while her mother struggled to overcome language barriers motivated Itzel to become a Spanish literature major. Because of that experience, she has intentionally chosen to pursue a career as a translator in the health care industry. She believes she can help make large-scale change to reduce language barriers that often prevent patients from getting the care they need — reducing anxiety for more patients and their families.

Maximiliano Ceballos ’22

 Ceballos.Maximiliano---Headshot---Alumni-Board.pngAlumni Board of Directors Chancellor’s Associates Scholar

Chancellor’s Associates Scholar Maximiliano “Max” Ceballos ’22, was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and relocated to the United States when he was 6. Food and housing instability were concerns he understood at a very young age. His family moved from San Diego to Los Angeles and back to Tijuana to make ends meet. The dynamic in his family changed when his father’s lifelong struggles with his eyesight impaired his work, making Max’s grandmother the main provider for the household. It was through a mixture of family support and local community resources that things finally settled down when Max was in his teens.

Max learned then that education would be his ticket to social mobility, impacting not just him, but his whole family. For six years, during high school and two years of community college, Max crossed the U.S.-Mexico border daily. But he persisted. “This was rough, I had to wake up at 4 a.m. to go to school,” he shared. When it came time to apply for continued education, he did not allow the uncertainty of how he was going to pay for it hold him back. “When I received news of the Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship, it was a huge relief for me, and a win for my whole family. The scholarship and the CASP office together make me feel like I have people backing me up and always willing to help.”

As a token of gratitude for all that he has received, Max acts as a CASP Peer Leader, mentoring a group of first-year students to make things a little easier for those in the same position he was. When Max started, his goal was to obtain an undergraduate degree. As a first-generation college student, he acknowledges that although it was not always obvious, the path to becoming an ophthalmologist and preventing others from having to endure the struggles his family faced has never been clearer.

Nadia Biglari '19

nadia biglari

Chancellor’s Associates Scholars Program (CASP) Alumni, like Nadia Biglari ’19, go on to accomplish great things with your help. Nadia came to CASP as a transfer student from San Diego City College. She received her bachelor’s in environmental chemistry last year and is now pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Said Nadia, “My career goals are to become a principle investigator and a leading scientist conducting research with everyday health and quality of life relevance. But, more important than that is that I aspire to become a mentor, an educator and a humble human being who treats others with respect, with dignity and with care as my former Professor Mark Thiemens was to me. The Chancellor’s Associate Scholarship provided me the financial security needed to focus on my studies. As an immigrant who came to this country in 2008, I did not have the financial resources needed to satisfy all of the required basic needs that must be met before one can focus on personal growth, education and a future career. My UC San Diego education has opened doors for me as a person, scientist, teacher and mentor. Never in my wildest dreams, could I have imagined myself as an undergraduate student at a highly sought after, respected and reputable institution, let alone becoming a graduate student, a graduate teaching assistant and mentor to other students. I was able to perform and contribute to top-notch research conducted in the field of atmospheric chemistry under the direction of the world-renowned Dr. Mark Thiemens and was published as a second author in two high impact scientific journals. This experience helped me grow as a student and scientist, as well as the future researcher and leader that I aspire to become.”

Francine Sotelo ’21

a-family-affair.jpgA Family Affair

In the 7th grade, Francine Sotelo ’21 met her future husband, Fernando ’21. They married at age 20 and later had two daughters while Fernando was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton. Francine and Fernando’s parents were immigrants from Mexico, and only one parent graduated from high school. The Sotelos decided they wanted more for their daughters and that they would need to set an example.

They enrolled at a local community college and pursued their studies despite many personal obstacles, such as needing to live with a friend and share a car to cut costs. The Sotelos later applied to UC San Diego and were both accepted. Making the spectacular news all the more exciting was that they both received a Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship, becoming the first married couple to become Chancellor Associate’s Scholars!

“Receiving the Chancellor’s Associates Scholarships was unbelievable,” Francine says. “It felt as though people believed in us and our abilities to achieve something we thought was never in our future.”

Francine says she not only wants to be “a voice for military wives, but for all girls who think going to a university is impossible. Higher education is absolutely possible regardless of age, background, and personal obstacles.”

Thank you for helping the Sotelos achieve their educational dreams and set an excellent example for their two daughters, Chloe and Lilly, who hope to attend The Preuss School. Please help us in welcoming our newest 2019 Chancellor’s Associates scholars and their families!

Jason Bermudez ’21


A Higher Purpose

Jason Bermudez ’21 dropped out of high school in New York City and instead received a GED. But the youngest of six siblings in his family of Puerto Rican descent decided years later he wanted to pursue higher education. He worked hard to become the first in his family to graduate from community college, and he did not stop there.

Jason heard UC San Diego was a great university that encouraged students to seek practical experience in their areas of study, so he applied. He was accepted and began his studies at UC San Diego’s Revelle College this fall! He says the Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship made it possible for him to attend this prestigious university.

“The Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship was the best thing that has ever happened in my life as a student,” Jason says. “I was worried at first about how I was going to pay the extra dues, but now I can study calmly.”

Jason grew up in a religious family and has long had an interest in religion as a social and psychological phenomenon, so he plans to study the subject at UC San Diego.

“I would love to have a career as a researcher or a teacher, helping others understand the complexities of religion and their sacred texts,” Jason says.

Jacqueline Le '17

Jacqueline Le

When Jacqueline Le ’17  opened a financial-aid packet from UC San Diego, she thought someone had made a mistake. She says her Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship “made it possible for me to find my passion and dedicate myself to work that I love.”

She kicked off her career last summer, participating in a UC San Diego School of Medicine internship program, where she will gained hands-on experience learning about diseases among underserved populations in the San Diego and Tijuana regions. With her background in public health, Le looks forward to a career serving others by finding innovative ways to expand access to health care and lower its costs.

Leslie Lopez '21

Ruber Lopez-Chavez

Civil-war violence, financial instability, teen pregnancy — these issues prevented Leslie Lopez and father from envisioning their future in their respective home countries, El Salvador and Guatemala. They fled to the United States to raise their children, and Leslie emphasizes that she and her brother grew up “understanding the blessing…of living in this country.” Upon graduating from the California Academy of Mathematics and Science (a magnet school in Carson, CA), she worried that her parents would be crushed by debt if she attended college. Still they encouraged Leslie to achieve what they couldn’t. When they found out Leslie had received a scholarship, “They were on the verge of tears, as was I…The scholarship was our saving grace.” She finds daily inspiration in being a Chancellor’s Associates Scholar, calling our group’s belief in her “the push I need to reach out and experience what this university truly has to offer.” A mechanical-engineering major who is ready to delve into leadership opportunities, she will serve as academic chair for the Society of Women Engineers in her sophomore year. No wonder Leslie has her parents beaming with pride!

Huy Nguyen '18

Huy NguyenLeaving Vietnam and settling in University Heights was a pivotal childhood transition for Huy Nguyen — a motivated student who was determined to reward his parents' unflagging support. Participating in resource programs like Reality Changers and Academic Connections led him to UC San Diego, and while admission to his “dream school” was significant, it was receiving the Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship that brought access. Huy notes, it “allowed me to be the first in my family to attend and graduate college” and removed the burdens of “taking out loans, working part-time jobs, and worrying my parents.”

Through the Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services Summer Bridge Program (a free transition program that allows first-year UC San Diego students to live on campus before the academic year begins, earn college credit, and further develop their academic skills), Huy made the connections that advanced him into aerospace engineering. Now, this 2018 graduate feels keenly prepared for his new Lockheed Martin Space Systems career in mission analysis and design, and noting that he will “forever be grateful for the world-class education” and “invaluable advice and guidance” he obtained here. We wish him every success ahead!

Meghan Stern '21

Meghan SternA graduate of local Lincoln High School, Meghan Stern ’21 came to UC San Diego ready to make a difference. The gregarious theater major, who also plans to pursue an educational-studies minor, notes that her Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship is helping her achieve her life goal: “to increase the importance of the arts in our society, especially in our K–12 educational system.” The oldest of four children, she hopes to heighten her siblings’ aspirations by inspiring them “to chase whatever dream they have until they reach it.” She credits the Chancellor’s Associates Scholars Program with boosting her confidence, both socially and academically, and with giving her “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gather…knowledge and skills.” Keep following your dreams, Meghan! 

Rabia Syed '21

Rabia SyRabia Syeded’s academic record shines. A native of Los Angeles, Rabia received her diploma from the 
California Academy of Mathematics and Science and is excited to pursue her higher education at UC San Diego. Rabia is majoring in public health and considering a double major in Spanish. She hopes to study-abroad for a semester and pursue a master’s degree. With two older sisters already in college, Rabia is extremely grateful that her Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship has lightened the economic load for her parents, granting her the “opportunity to pursue further education without having to worry about the financial costs.” Joining the Muslim Student Association has eased her transition, and she notes that campus is now her “home away from home.” Much success, Rabia!

Maria Triplett '20

Maria TriplettSophomore Maria Triplett is eagerly preparing for the future, with a clear focus on earning her doctorate in ethnic studies and ultimately working to improve the quality and accessibility of health care for women from underserved communities. As a student at Gompers Preparatory Academy, Maria dreamed of becoming the first in her family to attend a four-year university but was concerned about the burden to her single-parent household. Then came her life-changing Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship and the accompanying support of the Chancellor’s Associates Scholars Program. Maria is grateful for the Chancellor’s Associates “dedication to help students succeed, especially first-generation students….The scholarship has made me push harder in terms of academic work and motivated me to give back.” Look out, world!

Lexius Waltar '18

Lexius WaltarAs a first-generation college student, receiving a Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship was important to Lexius Waltar ’18, who says, “It means a lot to me and my family that I was able to continue pursuing my passions into higher education.”

Majoring in environmental systems, with a minor in African American studies, Waltar makes time in her busy schedule to advocate for other students’ success, as a freshman-mentoring intern with the Summer Bridge Program and as a member of the Black Student Union. She also attended the University of the West Indies on a study-abroad program.

Access to UC San Diego has expanded her horizons, and she’s ready to pay it forward. “This opportunity has not only opened doors for me but also for my family,” she says.

Khalil Williams '20

Khalil WilliamsKhalil Williams isn’t waiting until he graduates in 2020 to start cultivating real-world change. This Chancellor’s Associates Scholar has enrolled as a double major in political science and clinical psychology, and he volunteers with UC San Diego’s Foster the Students organization, which mentors students who have come through the foster and social-service systems and connects these learners to the campus’s full range of support services. Already an advocate for young people who are overcoming challenging backgrounds, Khalil ultimately plans to join forces with his sister and establish a juvenile-psychotherapy practice with a legal emphasis, in order to address criminal-justice issues and improve the lives of children nationwide. Our scholars put plans into action!