When Samantha Patricia Navarro was in high school, there wasn’t much talk in the house about her going to college. Her parents, who worked in the cherry and almond orchards in and around Modesto, were surprised when she brought it up.
“They planned for me to work and help with the bills,” Navarro said. And why not? They had actually done that much earlier in their lives. Navarro’s father was in sixth grade before dropping out of school to earn money; her mother dropped out of high school to work.
“It was kind of an understanding that my parents wouldn’t be able to give me much guidance,” Navarro said. “I had to get up, find information and find a mentor.”
She was in high school when she first met Aaron Sanchez, a guidance counselor and tutor in her school’s TRiO program, a federal student services outreach designed to identify and deliver individuals from underprivileged backgrounds. The program helps low-income, first-generation students, and students with disabilities through the academic pipeline from high school to college.
Sanchez, Navarro said, supported her with advice and tutoring during her graduation from Modesto Junior College.
“Aaron was my mentor for many years,” said Navarro. “I saw how he helped me, and I knew I wanted to do the same.”
With Sanchez’s support, Navarro was admitted to the University of California, Merced, where she graduated with a degree in psychology and a minor in public health.
Now, Navarro is a sophomore graduate student at Fresno State, where she majors in experimental psychology and has a graduate-level 4.0 GPA. Her research on human judgment will soon be published in a scientific journal.
She was also one of 23 students chosen by California State University (one from each campus) to receive the CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2022, the CSU system’s highest recognition of student achievement. As a Fresno State contractor, she is the Trustee Emeritus Peter Mehas Scholar.
The winners were recognized for their superior performance during the Committee on Institutional Advancement portion of the CSU Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 13.
“I was very surprised to get it, but I feel like it’s a way to honor my mentors and professors,” Navarro said. “It lets me know that I can succeed despite my background.”
Now halfway through her graduate career, Navarro works as a graduate teaching assistant and was honored as the best teaching assistant of the year for providing students with an exceptional learning experience. Passionate about teaching and mentoring college students, she also stays connected to her community, volunteering with higher education for K-12 students, and supporting farm workers through the United Farm Workers organization.
After graduating in the spring of 2023, Navarro plans to do a PhD in cognitive psychology and become a professor of the CSU system so she can support underrepresented students in higher education.
And while it took a while for them to say it, Navarro’s parents recently told her how proud they are.
“They can see how important [education] is now,” said Navarro.
The Trustees’ Award is the university’s highest recognition of student achievement. Each award provides a donor-funded scholarship to students who demonstrate superior academic achievement, personal achievement, community service, and financial needs. Awardees have all shown an inspiring determination on the path to college success, and many are the first in their families to enter college.
More than 420 students have been honored with the Trustees’ Award since the scholarship program was established in 1984 by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. In 1999, the Hearst Foundation partnered with the CSU Board of Trustees to supplement the endowment with contributions from CSU Trustees, CSU Foundation board members, and private donors.
Visit the CSU website for bios on all 23 scholars.