As they prepare for careers in education, law enforcement and business, six Stanislaus State students have been selected as the 2023 Mary Stuart Rogers Scholars.
The awards, in their 33rd year, are bestowed upon upper-division students and credential candidates who excel academically, demonstrate a commitment to community service and have overcome challenges to achieve success.
The six recipients were honored on campus Friday at an awards luncheon attended by members of the Rogers family representing the Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation, which started the scholarship program at Stan State in 1991.
“Although each of you has walked a different path, your commitment to excellence in pursuing your education sets a stellar and meaningful example to those who will follow in your footsteps,” said Interim President Susan E. Borrego, who congratulated the recipients.
Then Borrego turned her attention to the philanthropists behind the awards.
“The Mary Stuart Rogers Scholarship is an amazing gift to our students, and I want to personally thank John and June Rogers, Janet Rogers and the Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation for their compassionate generosity,” she said. “Their investment in our students reflects their profound belief in the transformative power of education and its ability to enhance lives.”
John Rogers, president of the Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation, together with his wife June and their daughter Janet personally congratulated each of the scholars and commended them for their hard work and dedication.
“We believe in you, and we are so proud of you,” Janet Rogers said.
This year’s recipients join more than 600 scholars at Stan State who have benefited from the generosity of the Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation, which has donated more than $3.2 million since the scholarship program was established.
2023 First-Year Recipients:
Isabel Bon-Zamorano was a high school honor student and was named to the dean’s list her first two years at Stanislaus State.
Her education preceded those challenging classes, though. It came from her parents.
Before working in field irrigation, her dad toiled in the agriculture fields in the heat of summer and cold of winter and told her getting an education was a must. Her mom taught her to be respectful, kind, amiable and trustworthy and to stand up for what she thought was right.
Bon-Zamorano, a first-generation college student, embodies those lessons as she pursues a degree in business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurial management.
Her dream is to gain experience in business before someday starting a small inclusive, eco-friendly company that will benefit her family.
Although she moved away from home to live on campus, her family is never far from her mind. She has settled in on campus, working at the University Student Center, participating in campus activities and joining the Eco-Warriors student organization.
“My parents are my role models and motivation to pursue higher educationand to be an example and role model to my family and friends,” Bon-Zamorano said.
With her sights set on a career in law enforcement, criminal justice major Gabriela Cortez-Naranjo has already tested the waters.
“I joined the Merced Police Explorers in 2019 with the intention of learning more about what police officers do,” said Cortez-Naranjo, who is in her senior year at Stan State. “As an explorer, was I able to interact with police officers from my community and was also able to see and get an idea of what the criminal justice field may be like.”
Naranjo-Cortez served more than 130 hours as an Explorer and nearly 160 hours as a youth mentor and teacher’s assistant, as well as working with the Merced Youth Council. During that time, she discovered she could parlay her penchant for community service into a fulfilling, successful career.
“After serving and learning from my community as a police officer, I would like to be promoted to a higher position within the criminal justice system and continue to serve my community,” she said.
Merced County recognized her work as an Explorer in 2020. She is a member of the Tri-Alpha Honor Society for first-generation college students and has been on the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences dean’s list for four semesters.
Emily Johnson found a home in theatre as a student and is now pursuing the opportunity to create a place for others to do the same as a teaching credential candidate at Stan State.
“My passion for working with youths was really sparked when I was given the chance to choreograph my local school choir’s Disney concert,” said Johnson, who grew up in Oakdale and earned her bachelor’s degree from UC Irvine. “I absolutely loved working with the kids and sharing my passion for the performing arts.”
It kindled her desire to teach and make a difference in students’ lives.
Johnson is enrolled in Stan State’s single-subject credential program and is conscious of her career choice’s importance.
“I am going to be teaching something that truly changed my life; something that gave me self-confidence when I couldn’t even look in the mirror,” Johnson said, “something that saved me and that makes me love life each day.
“I get to share my passion and love for the arts with students who want and need to express themselves in a creative and safe environment. I am going to be an educator who inspires students with my love for life, the arts, kindness and growth.”
Alejandra Murillo Contreras
History major and first-generation college student Alejandra Murillo Contreras always knew two things: she wanted to earn a college degree and her parents always encouraged her pursuit for the education they didn’t get.
Beyond earning a degree, her plans were unclear. After she enrolled at Stan State, she found she had a passion for teaching.
“Education is so important, and what motivates me to obtain a college degree is I will be able to help the next generation of leaders and educators to do the same,” said Contreras, a senior who plans to pursue a teaching credential after she graduates with her bachelor’s degree.
Her passion has roots in her past work teaching children to swim and coaching a recreational swim team for two years as a volunteer for the City of Patterson. Other volunteer work includes mentoring youth at her high school, raising money for clothes and holiday gifts for a nonprofit organization and working at a charity thrift store.
Contreras’s honors include certification as multilingual and bilingual, being named Lifeguard of the Year at the Patterson Aquatic Center and being on the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences dean’s list for two semesters.
First-generation college student Simeon Zaragoza has a strong interest in business and envisions his career path winding toward business management, marketing and human resources.
“I understand the critical importance of having employees feel safe and comfortable in the workplace,” said Zaragoza, a senior majoring in communication studies with a minor in leadership studies. “I would like to be able to influence employees of whichever company or organization I work for in a positive way so the company can succeed.”
Zaragoza has been active in student life and taken on several different roles at Stan State. He worked as a reporter for the campus newspaper, The Signal. He also worked at the Career and Professional Development Center, where he helped with marketing and assisted other students with career-related questions and in the Warrior Closet. At the University Student Center, Zaragoza was a student building manager ensuring safety and assisting with events.
This summer, Zaragoza was accepted into the Tuck Business Bridge Program at Dartmouth College. The certificate program focuses on teaching essential business skills for liberal arts and STEM majors.
Zaragoza participated in the Dr. Marvalene Hughes Leadership Conference and volunteered at Kaiser Permanente’s Physicians Day Family Event at Dell Oso Farms for the last several years.
2023 Second-Year Recipient:
As a liberal arts major, Olivia Gil’s goal was to become an elementary school teacher.
One visit to a special education classroom shifted those plans. The second-year Rogers Scholar earned her Bachelor of Arts and is pursuing an educational apecialist credential to become a special education teacher.
“As I got to interact with students who have special needs, I became more aware of the hardships they face,” Gil said. “Sadly, many of these children struggle with anxiety, bullying and isolation, which makes it difficult for them to make friends and be part of the community.
“As a special education teacher, you get to walk alongside them as they work to overcome these challenges.”
The Rogers Scholarship allows Gil to pursue her dream of teaching in Stanislaus County, where she is an active member of the community, both at her church and at Stan State.
“Knowing that the Rogers family is there to support me not only in my educational needs but also in my professional pursuits means so much to me,” Gil said. “I am both honored and proud to be a Rogers Scholar.”