Zimmerman scholarship ceremony leads to discussion of public service

Yethzéll Díaz
Scholarship winner Yethzéll Díaz promises to fulfill Gabe Zimmerman's legacy of public service. Taking part in a discussion of careers with a conscience were, in background from left, Joe Palca, Anthony Sanchez, Pamela Davis, and Carolyn Moore. (Photos by Joop Rubens)
Hector and Gladys Diaz, parents of Yethzéll Díaz
Hector and Gladys Díaz watch as their daughter receives her scholarship.
Emily Nottingham
Emily Nottingham receives a copy of a statement introduced into the Congressional Record, presented by Alec Arago, district director for Rep. Sam Farr.
Ross Zimmerman
Ross Zimmerman speaks of how his son's work as a congressional aide was more akin to social work than political. Jonathan Klein, who helped start the scholarship fund, is shown in background.
Gabriel Zimmerman "really became engaged in the critical thinking he was asked to do here," his mother Emily Nottingham remembered Friday during a panel discussion at UC Santa Cruz, "Careers with a Conscience."

Nottingham visited her late son's alma mater for the presentation of the first Gabriel Zimmerman Memorial Scholarship. Zimmerman (Stevenson, '02, sociology), was killed in the January 8, 2011 shooting in Tucson that gravely wounded U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz. Also attending were Gabe's father, Ross Zimmerman and Pamela Golden, his stepmother.

"Gabe would be honored to know Yethzéll has received this scholarship," Nottingham said, introducing Yethzéll Díaz, a UCSC senior with a double major in Latin American and Latino studies and sociology.

"I plan to continue Gabe Zimmerman's legacy by pursuing issues I'm passionate about," said Díaz, from Bakersfield, who was joined at the Stevenson Fireside Lounge by her parents, sister, and young nephew.

The $2,500 Gabriel Zimmerman Memorial Scholarship was established to support undergraduate students in the Division of Social Sciences who are passionate about social issues and committed to public service. Two alums got it started within days of Zimmerman's death. One, Jonathan Klein (Merrill, '89, politics), attended the ceremony and moderated the discussion.

The scholarship fund has since grown to an endowment of more than $90,000 from 800 donors. Social Sciences Dean Sheldon Kamieniecki said he hopes the fund will exceed $100,000 in order to provide for multiple scholarships. Contributions may be made by visiting this link.

The ability to think critically, sift through competing facts, and make considered decisions linked the panelists' discussion that followed the presentation.  Participating with Nottingham were NPR science correspondent Joe Palca (graduate division, '80, Ph.D. psychology), Anthony Sanchez (Stevenson, ' 02, history), Pamela Davis (College 8, '85, economics), and Carolyn Moore (Merrill, '92, psychology).

"Having the critical thinking skills makes a difference in whatever you do," Nottingham said. Her 30 years in government work showed her that "what makes people the most happy is the feeling that they are making a difference," she said.

Nottingham and Ross Zimmerman spoke of their son's love for helping Gifford's constituents as outreach director.  Alec Arago, district director for Rep. Sam Farr, D-Monterey, recalled Ross Zimmerman considered his son "a constituent whisperer."

Arago (Crown, '89, history) presented Zimmerman and Nottingham with copies of a congressional resolution honoring Gabe Zimmerman and the scholarship that will "support the work of Yethzéll Díaz and future students who are involved in helping average citizens improve their quality of life."

"I learned at Santa Cruz how we in our chosen careers can make people's lives better," said Sanchez, who now teaches seventh grade history in Elk Grove. He and Zimmerman were friends since their second day at Stevenson College. Education is a fundamental place where we get to impact everyone," he said.

Palca spoke of his time at UCSC and learning to "tell the truth and let people make their decisions based on the facts." Davis, who founded the Nonprofits' Insurance Alliance of California, told how she wanted to give something back after graduating as a reentry student with state support. She came up with the idea for the Careers with a Conscience discussion.

Moore, director of the Self-Sufficiency Program at the Human Investment Project, in San Mateo, shared her experiences with helping women with housing while they pursue education or job skills.

"When Gabe graduated," Nottingham said, "he was able to retain the idealism he learned here. He believed that individuals can make a difference."