UNM alumna Erlene Lucero was the first in her family to attend and graduate college. In the fall of 2010, she spoke to students from her hometown, Jemez Pueblo, about UNM and the opportunities that come with the New Mexico Legislative Lottery Success Scholarship.
“Many minorities and people I know, they don’t know about scholarships, they don’t know what the first thing to do and they’re scared, like ‘Oh, well I’m not smart enough or I don’t have the GPA,’” Lucero said. “I wasn’t up there either when I graduated high school. I didn’t have the highest GPA and I came to UNM with several students who were the top 10 in my class and for me to have the lottery gave me the same opportunity they had.”
Lucero said she is counting on this year’s House Bill 309 to replenish the Lottery Scholarship funds — which will dry up by July if nothing is done — and to continue to give UNM students the chance she was given for a higher education.
Lucero is an instructor at San Diego Riverside Charter School in Jemez Pueblo where she teaches students in kindergarten through eighth grade to read and speak the native language Towa. Lucero earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2008 at UNM. Lucero, who was the only student in her high school graduating class to graduate from college, said the Lottery Scholarship helps pueblo students like herself afford and attend UNM.
“I didn’t have to take out student loans and I’m very grateful for that — I have some friends who had to take out student loans, never graduated and they still are having to pay them,” she said.
Student Brittany Westvang said the Lottery Scholarship was one of the main reasons she decided to attend UNM. Westvang said she has three jobs: events director of UNM Community Experience, campus intern for Teach for America, and lifeguard at YMCA. These help pay for expenses the Lottery Scholarship does not cover.
“I can only imagine how hard it would be to further my degree with all the debt that I’d have accumulated (without the scholarship),” she said.
Student Monika Honeyestewa, who will graduate with a psychology degree this semester, is one of three siblings in her family attending college. Honeyestewa said the Lottery Scholarship helps relieve her parents of the stress of paying the tuition for three students.
“I don’t think they could afford to pay three times the tuition for us to be in school, so it’s definitely taken a burden off of my family financially, even just emotionally, knowing the security is there, knowing that at least this amount of school is paid for,” she said.
Honeyestewa, who served as Miss Indian University of New Mexico from 2011 to 2012, said she often spoke to students at her home in Laguna Pueblo about higher education and scholarship opportunities. Honeyestewa said the scholarship’s financial woes have her worried about whether her younger sister will have the Lottery Scholarship.
“It’s kind of scary to think that my sister faces this unsure future for her higher education,” she said. “I think it would be a really difficult position for her if she didn’t receive the Lottery Scholarship.”
Student Phillip Sisneros said he hopes the Lottery Scholarship gets a second chance to thrive — similar to a second chance he received two years ago. Sisneros lost his Lottery Scholarship in the spring of 2011 after dropping a few classes and falling one credit short of the 12-credit scholarship requirement.
Sisneros said he petitioned to get the scholarship back after he saved up $1,200 to attend two courses that summer. Sisneros said that had he never gotten the scholarship back, he would be spending more time at work than he would be in class or studying.
“When it comes down to it, you have to study more than you work at a minimum wage job so in the future you can have a higher paying job,” he said. “It’s probably the best opportunity I have to get myself a good life.”