The Inland Empire Scholarship Fund was established as a 501c3 non-profit organization in 1998 by Dr. Manuela G. Sosa, a retired dentist, and Espartago (Randy) Sosa, a retired engineer with Caltrans, to provide scholarships, academic guidance, career advice, and college admission assistance to Latino students in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
The Sosas recognized a need in the community to provide financial assistance to students who come from low income Latino families. Both Manuela and Randy share a common thread with many IESF recipients, in that both were low-income, first-generation high school and college graduates in their families. As such, they understood first-hand the needs and challenges of many Latino students wishing to pursue their goal of a college education.
As with the parents of current IESF recipients, the Granado and Sosa families recognized the value of an education. And although Randy and Dr. Sosa had the loving support and encouragement of their parents, their families did not have the financial means to help them with their college expenses. Moreover, there were few financial aid programs available at the time, and rarely were Latino students made aware of what opportunities they had to qualify.
Without access to financial aid, Dr. Sosa worked and saved money, eventually enrolling, first at San Bernardino Valley College, and then at UC Riverside. She slowly accumulated college credits towards her degree. After her graduation from UCR, she was the only Latina admitted to Loma Linda Dental School, and as a result, maintained a dental practice for 30 years. Randy joined the military and took college courses, also putting himself through school. He became a senior registered engineer with Caltrans until his retirement, after 43 years of service. Despite busy careers and community activism, they raised three children, Vivian, Christina, and Gregg all college graduates, themselves.
Once they became established in their professions, Randy and Dr. Sosa drew from their own personal experiences to help students who lacked the financial resources and guidance to attend college. As a result, Dr. Sosa began to ask for donations to an informal birthday scholarship fund by approaching friends and family, one by one. Each year, they raised more money, and in 1998, from its humble beginnings, established the Inland Empire Scholarship Fund. Since its founding, the IESF has awarded over $800,000 in scholarships to over 750 students throughout San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, an area of 27,000 square miles, larger than many states.
The criteria used for awarding scholarships are financial need, academic achievement, and community service. These criteria stem from the Sosas primary goal of awarding scholarships to develop local Latino professionals who plan to return to the Inland Empire and give their skills back to the community. As such, IESF recipients volunteer as tutors, act as mentors, and work alongside medical personnel at community healthcare clinics. With relatively low numbers of Latino doctors, psychologists, dentists, lawyers and engineers in this two-county area, paired with the need for more bilingual professionals, these scholarships are meeting previously unfulfilled needs to all residents. Continued financial assistance is particularly important to low-income students, and IESF meets that need by encouraging the students to reapply throughout their academic career.
In addition to financial assistance, the Sosas understood the importance of academic counseling, guidance, and ongoing support. A great number of students, including Latinos, do not receive the counseling they need to navigate through the system of admission and financial aid applications, choosing a major, and setting career objectives. The Sosas help students with personal challenges, finding jobs, and matching recipients to both academic and professional mentors when possible.
The background of our students is as varied as the demographics of the Inland Empire, with some coming from two parent families, and others from single parent households. Some are on their own, and others have been in foster care. Some live in stable homes, and others have been homeless, living in their cars and shelters. Some are entering freshman, just starting their college careers, and others are parents returning to college while balancing the demands of raising their families. The common thread that unites all our students is that that they have drive, determination and passion to pursue a college education, have a career, support their families, and give back to their communities.