McDonald’s HACER National Scholarship Series, Featuring April Gonzalez

April Gonzalez UC Irvine HACER

Certain circumstances may redirect our path. The trials are inevitable in the life of the human being and when we believe that everything is lost, it is when we must act and seek solutions. That is the lessons we learn daily from the Latinx community in the United States.

Coming from a low-income family, April Gonzalez, is another proof that regardless of her social class, gender, or ethnicity background, she has equal and fair opportunities to take full advantage of her education. Destined to break generational chains when it comes to schooling, Gonzalez applied for free and reduced lunch programs and low fee waivers for field trips and the SAT (a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States) when her parents needed help with the finances. 

With her parents supporting all the family members, and sending money to her ill grandmother in Mexico, Gonzalez, knew that the McDonald’s HACER National Scholarship would relieve financial stress to her household. The program, to help more Hispanic undergraduates expanded the project from five to 30 winners, giving more students the opportunity to reach their higher education goals. Scholarship recipients will receive up to $100,000 to help finance their tuition and based on her academic achievement, community involvement, and financial need, the HACER National Scholarship awarded Gonzalez with $10 thousand dollars.

Because of her beautiful story, BELatina wanted to learn more about April Gonzalez and how she is working her way up to become a benchmark in her career and for all the Latinx community. 

 How did you hear about the HACER Scholarship? What motivated you to apply?

I first heard about the McDonald’s HACER National scholarship  while at dinner with my family. I was concerned about how I was going to afford college when my eldest sister shared that she had a friend who received a scholarship from McDonald’s. She suggested I begin my search by tracking down the McDonald’s scholarship. I soon found the official HACER National Scholarship website. Witnessing my sisters struggle to afford college motivated me to apply. I was also reminded by my middle sister how scholarships helped her attend two years of college without taking out heavy loans. By applying for the scholarship, I could alleviate the stress of trying to afford an education and also avoid burdensome student loans.

What did your parents say when you received the email notifying you were a scholarship recipient?

This whole process has emphasized my appreciation for my parents and the values they instilled in me by teaching me to work hard, to work smart, and to always acknowledge my accomplishments. When I received a congratulatory email notifying me that I was indeed a scholarship recipient, my mother and I screamed and hugged in excitement. She then proceeded to tell me that the result is only a reflection of my effort. As my father also celebrated my success, I could see the relief and pride in his eyes that I took the initiative in figuring out how to pay for college.

What are you studying? Why did you choose your career? 

I am a freshman at the University of California, Irvine majoring in Biological Sciences. Watching my eldest sister go through medical school, there was nothing I wanted more than to be exactly like her. I want to be able to give back to and inspire my Latino community. Therefore, during high school I focused my extracurriculars on a pre-healthcare career pathway. During the summer before college, I enrolled in an English course at my local community college, took an administrative assistant job at a landscaping company and attended CAMP Summer Science Academy (CSSA) through UC Irvine. Through those experiences, I was inspired to pursue my curiosity of business in conjunction with biological sciences. So in addition to studying biological sciences, I plan to study business since I’ve always had a passion for negotiating. I decided to attend UC Irvine because I felt that this college would give me the opportunity to combine my interests in science and business while giving back to my community.

hacer national scholarship April Gonzalez

Who is your role model? Why?

My mom is my role model. I am the person I am today because of her. My mom immigrated to the United States with one goal in mind: an education for her daughters. Once in the U.S., she only took on jobs that allowed her to provide for her family and raise her children. My mother raised my siblings and me to always lookout for each other. Although friends may come and go, family is forever. I am also grateful for my sisters and the guidance they’ve given me over the years and throughout the application process. In college, I hope to have my mom’s positive spirit, wholesome heart, and strong mindset. My mother is the biggest influence in my life because she instilled values in me that she passed down from her Catholic faith. I feel more prepared than most to face the hardships that I may encounter in college and beyond.

Working with your mom helped you to build character. Tell us about those teachable moments.

Although my mother did not have her dream job, she worked housekeeping because it allowed her to own her own business, while also taking care of her family. My experiences of working alongside her built my strong character. We ended our work day covered in dust with the smell of cleaning supplies still lingering on our bodies. One day I asked my mom why the houses she cleaned were so big, why her clients needed a toy room, and if I could ever own a similar house? Whenever I pointed out differences between the homes she cleaned and our own, she would always tell me they were simply the result of an education and good decisions.

What is the story behind the Girls Who Code club? 

Inspired to change the stigma surrounding girls in STEM and change the female community at my high school, I created the first Girls Who Code club (GWC) at Leigh High School. GWC is an organization that exposes young women of all backgrounds to computer science and programming.

While the main goal of the club was to help close the gender gap in tech careers, I felt that it was equally important to build a community of sister-peers and role models in STEM. I established a culture that didn’t just focus on learning, but also focused on relationships and support between members.

Leadership, I learned, wasn’t just about having an idea—it was about bringing a team together to transform a vision into reality. I’m specifically proud of the positive feedback I received from one of the early members: “Girls Who Code outings have really allowed me to overcome my shyness and talk to girls I would not usually hang out with.” I learned the balance between displaying confidence without silencing the opinions of others, but instead empowering them. GWC became one of the most active clubs on campus, and now has 20 members.

Creating a GWC club from scratch taught me the importance of creating something when it does not already exist, if you believe in it. My school had few programming classes, and it had not created anything that would motivate girls to learn about computer science. In addition to the education in the classroom, I learned that it can be difficult to take the initiative to create something new, but also how valuable and rewarding it is when it is done for others. This experience shaped my character and will allow me to face my college experience with courage.

What are your plans for the future?

My academic goal is to learn as much as possible from my professors and build a network to support my career goals. I believe the professors and mentors I will encounter during my time at UC Irvine could assist me in finding internship and job opportunities. In addition to networking with my professors, I want to do well in my classes and achieve a high GPA as to stand out to employers applying for internships. The most common piece of advice that I’ve received is to intern and gain experience as soon as possible because when students apply for jobs after college, companies will take candidates with previous work experience and detailed recommendations. I am interested in applying for jobs at companies such as Google, Oracle, and Amazon. In my future job, I hope to gain experience and put myself in a position to be a candidate for a managerial position.

Through the experience gained through my involvement on campus, I will have built the foundation for my professional goals. In addition to continuing my work ethic and progressing towards a managerial position, I want to ensure that I contribute to the company’s progress as well. Other professional goals of mine include improving the work atmosphere and perhaps starting my own business or opening a franchise someday.

Please send a message to all the Latinx community living in the US that wants to have a promising future like you.

Whenever I am going through difficult times, academic or personal, I always keep in mind the importance of family, faith, and determination. Opportunity can strike when one least expects. A positive attitude is key in succeeding. I cannot stress the importance of forming connections; you never know when a friend can provide guiding words or a helping hand. Lastly, I encourage all students to invest time into applying to scholarships like the McDonald’s HACER National Scholarship. Applying to college itself may seem overwhelming but with the right resources it is more than possible. Attend college for yourself and for your family. Do not give up. If the rewards of pursuing higher education do not present themselves immediately, they will in the future.

The McDonald’s HACER National Scholarship was established in 2008, and since then, the program has awarded nearly $5 million in financial help to 46 students across the country. If like April Gonzalez you want to succeed in life and are a top Hispanic student in need, you can apply from October 7, 2019 through February 5, 2020 to one of the thirty scholarships.