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The Latino Institute Celebrates their Lider Award Scholars  

To further the mission of the Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute, the institute provides scholarship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. The Lider award provides tuition relief as the student fulfills a service project over the course of the academic year. 

Here are the highlights from Lider Award scholarship recipients in the 2020-2021 academic year: 

Claudia RomaniClaudia Romani:
As an immigrant from Peru, Romani witnessed the disparities in healthcare, education, wealth and living conditions in Peru. Her passion began to grow to help these communities, and the Lider award provided her an avenue to further her goal. 

She partnered with MEDLIFE, an international non-profit organization, to assist them in their project to provide COVID-19 relief in hope of ameliorating this stressful situation for many low-income families. Romani said the project provided relief to remote areas in Peru and Ecuador. 

"With the support of the Joseph Carmen Ana Unanue Latino Institute, I was able to donate $400 to MEDLIFE which went directly to low-income communities in Peru and Ecuador suffering the consequences of the pandemic," Romani said. "My donation provided meals for hundreds of families."

Alejandro-cubillos 320Alejandro Cubillos:
A passion for education and cultural exchange is what influenced Cubillos to pursue a project to help communities in Colombia. His program consisted of donating English textbooks to poor kids in Colombia.

"The objective is that the kids will be able to pursue higher education and better life conditions," Cubillos said. "In the long run, the project also seeks to promote cultural exchange by helping them overcome the language barrier."

He said the Lider award funds allowed him to donate a total of 120 textbooks to a school with kids ranging from the ages of 5 to 8.

Nutriendo el Futuro logoSantiago Cabrera:
As a citizen of Venezuela, Cabrera noted the humanitarian crisis that has devasted the nation. In a Bloomberg report, the minimum wage in Venezuela is equivalent to $3.61. Inspired by the work of "Nutriendo al Futuro," a charity in Venezuela, Cabrera strived to help feed kids struggling with malnutrition. 

The Lider award provided an avenue for Cabrera to directly help the charity. His Líder Award proposal sought to invest the $500 award of the scholarship into organizing a fundraiser for "Nutriendo al Futuro." 

"The reason I chose Nutriendo al Futuro for this is because they have a beautiful project, but also because they are willing to help in the marketing campaign and send videos of the kids saying thank you," Cabrera said. "Furthermore, their production numbers are great and motivate people to donate, with only $10 they are able to feed a kid for a month."

carina 2021 320Carina M. Castagna:
Castagna has continued her work for Venezuelan refugees. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, her original plans were slightly altered. Despite the changes, Castagna said that she was able to use the Lider award funds and utilize her network to increase donations and reach her goal of $5000. Her connections include the Christian Missionary Alliance Church. While the pandemic halted potential progress, Castagna said that it does not deter her passion.

She added that through her connections with CMA she is provided an opportunity to assist them in building a safe home for thousands of Venezuelan families as they travel across the border to Colombia. 

The scale of this crisis is more than Columbia can handle as they try to keep the borders open and registering these refugees during the time of crisis," Castagna said. "With all that is going on in the world today it is more important than ever to not forget our struggling 'Latino sisters and brothers'."

Berire Goncuoglu:
Puerto Rico's infrastructure has been damaged by an onslaught of earthquakes. As a result of the earthquakes, tens of thousands of children remain out of school. Goncuoglu found that "the school closures deal yet another blow to the education of Puerto Rico's schoolchildren." 

A photo of a young boy drawing on a board.After a trip to Puerto Rico, she said she was hurt as she witnessed the lack of necessities for the children, like water. Through the scholarship, Goncuoglu strived to collect donations to help the children and schools. 

"You wouldn't think but even $5 helps," Goncuoglu said. "You can buy a few packs of water for $5. Those kids deserve to be met with their basic human need, water."

By gathering a list of items needed from the principals of the schools in Puerto Rico, she was able to gather donations to help the school and students. 

"The reconstruction of Puerto Rico's public schools; its right to equal school funding; and students' right to be educated in a safe, high-quality learning environment must become and remain a topic of daily discourse until the work has been completed," she said. 

Juliette Linares:
COVID-19 continues to impact the entire world, and while people continue to adapt to the changes, Linares found a new opportunity to help families dealing with the struggles brought on by the pandemic. 

juliette-linares-collage 320While her plans changed slightly, her original focus for education and literacy continued. As many families struggled financially, Linares decided to use the Lider Award funds to purchase food items and deliver groceries to families dealing with financial problems because of the pandemic. Along with the groceries, Linares combined her passion for literacy to include books for the children as well. 

Originally my contact with students and families did not extend beyond the classroom walls," Linares said. "Delivering groceries and books to students' homes was an eye-opening experience."

She added, "I was able to witness firsthand that, regardless of the less than favorable living conditions, student exuberance at my distant waving and blowing of kisses was a meaningful interaction for academic motivation, personal wellness and family engagement."

Michael PachecoMichael Pacheco: 
After arriving in Puerto Rico in 2018, Pacheco witnessed the effect of Hurricane Maria, especially the damages to the entire infrastructure of the island. 

"Every direction I looked there was some type of proof that showed me the island just went through a disaster," Pacheco said. 

After witnessing the life after the hurricane, Pacheco was inspired to apply for the Lider Award to establish a toy and clothing drive for those in Puerto Rico. 

"To be able to give back to my homeland and those suffering families would mean a lot to me," Pacheco. "A lot of people think Puerto Rico received a lot of money and everything is getting fixed rapidly, unfortunately there are still families that suffer."

Through the Lider Award funds, Pacheco was able to supply the kids and local schools with items like, school supplies, from markers to dry erase boards, cabinets and a movie projector. 

Alyssa Mar:
Through the pandemic, mental health became a major conversation for many. Studies found that because of the pandemic, people have begun contemplating suicide, dealing with mental illnesses, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

A study by the CDC found one in four young adults, from age 18-24, had contemplated suicide in a 30-day period during the summer of 2020.

To raise awareness on mental health, Mar decided to use the Lider Award funds to establish a series of events that would spark discussions about mental health. 

"These sessions will include introductions to breathwork and meditation practices to aid participants in their journey to well-being," Mar said. "Alongside is the mission to have students and faculty find peace within oneself–of different cultures, traditions, religions, and nationalities, and thus reminding us all that we have one goal to uplift human life everywhere."

She added, "I want to equip the Seton Hall community with the tools they need to reduce internal stressors and bring awareness to the importance of self-well-being."

Categories: Alumni , Arts and Culture , Education

For more information, please contact:

  • Ana Campocerde
  • (973) 761-9422