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Promise Scholars group.

A Collective Pledge

Four supporters share their commitment to Promise Scholars

UC Santa Barbara has created the first financial aid package in the nation that guarantees complete, up-front, multi-year support to qualifying undergraduates. UCSB Promise Scholars are high-achieving Californians whose family income falls below federal poverty guidelines. Philanthropy plays a pivotal role in the program’s success.

Betty Elings Wells H’10, longtime campus supporter and chair of the UC Santa Barbara Foundation Board of Trustees, has made a significant gift to help UC Santa Barbara’s 500+ Promise Scholars succeed.

“I was so impressed with their capabilities and their backgrounds,” Betty said. “When they were awarded these scholarships, they couldn’t believe it. I was really touched by how much it did for them.”

As the first Promise Scholars donor, Marty Stone ’82 saw a chance to change the nature of the student body. The Stone family supports Ebelechukwu Veronica Eseka ’21 and Yvette Felix ’23. Veronica is a first-generation student from Nigeria and Ghana. A sociology major with history and applied psychology minors, Veronica served on the Black Student Union executive board, worked on a successful bill to extend Cal Grants to summer session, and participated in UCDC.

When Veronica first met Marty in Washington, D.C., the two quickly formed a mentorship. Marty shared his experience in politics and connected Veronica with lawyers to interview about her career plans.

“Marty made an effort to ensure that wherever he took me, there were people of color or women,” said Veronica. “He believes that since he has these networks, why not share?”

Marty describes Veronica as a dynamo, an activist determined to change the trajectory of not just her family but the world. For Marty, making the UC Santa Barbara experience affordable for others is personal. His father had passed away the summer before college and Marty worked 35 hours a week while in school selling shoes to afford tuition.

Promise Scholars was born of frustration with traditional financial aid models, which seek a four-year commitment from students who often know only how they’ll pay for the first year. Instead, UC Santa Barbara gives Promise Scholars the space to focus on their experience. With the guidance and round-the-clock support of director Holly Roose, Promise Scholars benefit from wraparound services like housing and healthcare.

David Callaghan ’93 and family.
David Callaghan ’93 and family

David Callaghan ’93 worked through a UC Santa Barbara academic probation that might have ended his college career if not for the support of his mother. A single mom, fervent about education despite financial struggles, Shari Skinner raised her boys on “The Iliad” for bedtime stories. David and his wife, Joanna, support the Promise Scholars program in her honor.

“To make an impact individually, directly, is a needle mover for us,” said David. “It puts more responsibility on us.”

The Callaghan family supports Derry Solano Mendez ’23, a first-generation sociology major from Escondido who hopes to work in behavioral analysis for the FBI.

“When you get into college, there’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Derry. “I want to set an example for my three little sisters and give my parents more experience when it’s their turn to go.”

In addition to empowering one student, supporters can also help Promise Scholars explore a discipline. UC Santa Barbara Foundation Trustee Elizabeth Gabler ’77 designed a program that provides students with a year of instruction and mentorship in writing.

“Some of the happiest years of my life were spent at UC Santa Barbara, and I want to give back to this wonderful school in any way I can,” said Elizabeth. “Since I can attribute much of my success in life to the writing skills I acquired there as an English major, my husband, Lee, and I felt that establishing a program where students can specifically focus on writing in a way that is meaningful to them would be an important step in their education.”

“I want to say a big thank you to Elizabeth for giving me the opportunity to explore my writing,” said Abigail Morales ’21, who interviewed activists and organizers for her Gabler Promise Scholars Writing Program project. “It’s something that I didn’t think I would be able to do, and it inspires me to continue.”

Promise Scholars have gone on to attend graduate school at prestigious institutions including Harvard, Yale, and UC Berkeley. Their achievements are the sum of their hard work, their families’ dedication, and their supporters at UC Santa Barbara.

“The Promise Scholar program is unique in many ways,” said Michael Miller, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment services at UC Santa Barbara, “but what really makes it special is how many people within the campus community contribute to its success.”