A Life-Changing Commitment to Community Service

Growing up in Norwalk, in Southern California, Gabriela Galicia ’09 knew she was college-bound, but assumed she would attend a school nearby. Then during her junior year of high school, while participating in a program for high-achieving students from low-income, first-generation college families, she went on a college tour of the Cal campus.

“I had never even heard of Berkeley!” she says. “I had my mind set on going to college close to home, but during this trip, an alum from our high school gave us a tour of campus and told us about what an amazing place it was, from the professors to the emphasis on volunteering in the community, which was something I knew I wanted to do.”

Berkeley also gave Gabriela something else: independence. “I realized that going to school away from home would help me grow as a person,” she says.

Gabriela was accepted and began researching scholarships. She discovered The Achievement Award Program (TAAP).

Gabriela’s parents are from Mexico. “Because I am from a low-income immigrant family, I knew I needed significant support to attend college,” she says. “When I learned about TAAP, I got excited—not only did it provide financial support, I could tell by the description on the website that it was geared to support people of color from low-income backgrounds. It sounded wonderful!”

She attended a TAAP gathering for prospective scholars and alumni in the Los Angeles area, where she met director Joani Carpenter and other staff. “They were all so welcoming, I felt like I had my place at Berkeley even before I started school,” Gabriela says. “Leaving home for the first time, that was so comforting.”

TAAP gathering for prospective scholars and alumni with director Joani Carpenter.

Gabriela began as a STEM major in the College of Natural Resources. But since middle school, she had volunteered for various nonprofits and was interested in community organizing. Through TAAP’s community service program, she tutored students at Willard Middle School in Berkeley, which further cemented her decision to change her major to political science, with a minor in ethnic studies. Until Cal, she says, she didn’t realize that she could pursue her passions—community organizing and social justice—as a career.

“TAAP gives students from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to have a life-changing experience at Cal.”

After graduation Gabriela found a job at the Street Level Health Project in Oakland as an outreach worker. Street Level provides direct services to and advocacy for recent immigrants. She calls it “the safety net for the safety net.” Today, Gabriela is the organization’s executive director.

Gabriela credits TAAP for providing her with the tools required to succeed in her leadership role. “In TAAP, I participated on the social committee, and learned how to put together events, foster collaboration, and develop a community,” she says. “So it was a natural fit for me to take on this role at Street Level.”

Gabriela says she still has many friends from her Cal days—most of whom she met in TAAP. She says the family-like culture TAAP creates is conducive to forming strong bonds. “The monthly meetings we had were key,” she says. “We were all running around campus, doing our own thing, but these meetings gave all of us a space to connect and build a foundation.”

TAAP social Thanksgiving gathering.

Today, Gabriela says coming to UC Berkeley was the right choice, and the TAAP scholarship and community played significant roles in her development at Cal.

“Both Cal and TAAP helped me grow as a person and develop certain skills I would not have had otherwise,” she says. “I also appreciated how I met people from all over the world here. I don’t think that would have happened if I went to a school close to home.

“Ultimately, TAAP gives students from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to have a life changing experience at Cal,” she continues. “I would love for more and more students every year to have that opportunity. And I think the TAAP donors understand how valuable their commitment is. I appreciate how so many of them want to understand where we came from and support us on our path to fulfilling our dreams.”

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