In the midst of a historic economic downturn, more than 300 people turned out to raise funds for scholarships and honor UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Emeritus Karl Pister and his wife Rita Olsen Pister at the sixth annual Scholarship Benefit Dinner Saturday night.

Attendees and sponsors raised more than $165,000 for undergraduate scholarships, a feat Chancellor George Blumenthal called "especially gratifying" given the economic turmoil. The $200-a-plate event sold out weeks ago.

"More than a third of our students are the first in their family to attend college," Blumenthal told the gathering of community leaders, students, and community college and university officials. "Many are from disadvantaged families," he said. "Your support makes a huge difference for these students and their families."

One of those students, Catalina Berumen, remembered the pride she felt when she told her mother, a housecleaner, and her father, a gardener, that she had won a Pister scholarship to UCSC when she transferred from San Mateo College.

"My scholarship was the catapult, the reason I have a story of pride and success to tell you," Berumen said. Now a third grade bilingual teacher in Virginia, Berumen joined approximately two dozen other Pister Scholars in thanking and honoring the Pisters for their dedicated efforts in providing scholarships. Pister founded the Leadership Opportunity Awards in 1993. It offers $20,000 scholarships to junior transfer students from 13 regional community colleges.

After showering the Pisters with accolades, Blumenthal presented them with a framed photograph of themselves outside university house. Earlier in the evening the UCSC Women's Club honored Rita Pister for establishing a scholarship program for re-entry students.

Pister credited several staff members by name for their help in making the Leadership Opportunity Awards a success. He later recalled how he cobbled together the initial funds to create the endowment that supports the program.

Berumen, who graduated in 1995 as one of the first-year Pister Scholars, returned to UCSC three years later for her teaching credential and masters in education. She taught at Starlight and Alianza schools in Watsonville before moving to Virginia in 2003.

Five current or former UC chancellors attended the dinner. Blumenthal and Pister, chancellor from 1991-96, were joined by M.R.C Greenwood, chancellor from 1996 to 2004; Marty Chemers, acting chancellor from 2004-05; and Sung-Mo "Steve" Kang, now chancellor at UC Merced. Kang previously was dean of UCSC's Baskin School of Engineering.

Edgar Marin, of Watsonville, a senior literature major, and one of 15 children, attended the dinner, accompanied by his mother. Several years out of high school, Marin attended Cabrillo College, where he won a Pister LOA scholarship to attend UCSC. Marin said he aspires to become a professor and continue the cycle of opportunity for disadvantaged students.

Ticket sales and sponsorships raised more than $165,000, and donations are still coming in. Contributions may be directed to Kathleen Rose Hughes at (831) 459-4552 or khughes@ucsc.edu.