Full circle community

Alumni Association support helps scholar pay it forward

Katia Avila Pinedo (Merrill ’24, computer engineering)

Katia Avila Pinedo (Merrill ’24, computer engineering) recognized early on the vital role that community can play in student success. That’s how Avila Pinedo, who hails from an educationally disadvantaged area near Los Angeles, immediately knew that UC Santa Cruz was the perfect fit for her. 

“The moment I stepped onto the campus, surrounded by the beauty of nature, I just knew this was the place for me. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. I could feel the community aspect and support,” Avila Pinedo says.

As an Alumni Association Scholarship recipient now in her fourth year studying computer engineering, Avila Pinedo has not only benefited from UCSC’s strong community—she’s helped build and sustain it.

Avila Pinedo has worked as a peer mentor for the MESA Engineering Program (MEP), which provides academic and personal support to encourage the academic success of aspiring engineering students—many of whom are first in their family to attend college or from historically marginalized backgrounds. She has also worked as Executive Lead for GraceHacks, a student hackathon that fosters a welcoming and supportive hackathon environment for women and non-binary students. In addition, she plays the violin with Mariachi Eterno de UCSC.

Avila Pinedo says financial support combined with other UCSC resources have allowed her to experience much that the university has to offer and to give back to fellow students.

“My success and accomplishment have been because of community support,” she says. “It’s great to receive support from organizations like the Alumni Association that help financially, and also from places like MEP that help support students academically. Without financial support, I wouldn’t be able to invest in helping other students 10 hours a week because I’d have to spend that time working. The donors’ contributions (to scholarship funds) are helping other students by helping me.”

She wants contributors to scholarship funds to know that every gift helps. 

“I want to tell them that it’s making an impact. Looking at the big picture, it might not seem like your individual contribution is making a difference. It is.” 

“Financial support from the university is very helpful,” she says. “I don’t have to worry about finances, which frees me up to focus on my studies. Otherwise I would be worried about food, my health, and housing security.  And without scholarships, I would have been required to take out loans. The financial support really takes the pressure off me and my family.”

Avila Pinedo is currently working as a software engineering intern at Microsoft in Seattle. This fall, she will work as a CalTeach intern, as well as a full time research intern in the Tech for Good lab.  UCSC’s CalTeach program supports undergraduate and transfer students interested in careers in education, and helps develop a pipeline of STEM teachers for California’s public schools. Tech 4 Good conducts research in social computing, exploring the intersection of computation systems and social interaction in order to develop systems that support flourishing in work, education, governance, and community engagement. 

Avila Pinedo says UCSC has helped her discover a passion not only for engineering but for education. She dreams of helping future students by becoming a professor of engineering, and says UCSC is preparing her to achieve her goals.

“I love this place, I love these people, why can’t I help, too?” she says. And while her plans for grad school aren’t yet finalized, she’d be eager to return to UCSC. 

“I wouldn’t hesitate to come back and support UCSC,” says Avila Pinedo.

The Alumni Association Scholarship has provided financial assistance for UC Santa Cruz students for 31 years. The scholarship supports high-achieving first-year and transfer students who are working hard to earn their degree while navigating financial hardship.  Every student selected receives a $3,000 annual award until they graduate, as long as they maintain a good academic standing.  

For more information about supporting this scholarship and others, visit success.ucsc.edu.