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Big, anonymous donation will fund dozens of scholarships for UC Merced students each school year

Lance Johnson
Creative Commons via Flickr

MERCED (CVJC) – An anonymous donation of $9 million to UC Merced will provide security to a scholarship program that helps local high school students attend the university.

The donation announced Wednesday will establish an endowment fund for the Gateway Scholarship Program so it can continue well into the future, university officials said.

Since its inception in 2015, the Gateway Scholarship Program has benefitted 275 graduates of Merced high schools. It helps underserved students who are in the first-generation of their families to enroll in college and focuses on students in need of early intervention. Moving forward, the program will provide scholarships to 36 students each year and will continue to give preference to graduates from Merced high schools.

“With the establishment of the Gateway Scholarship Endowed Fund, future scholars wishing to remain in the San Joaquin Valley for their college education will have access to resources that help them thrive," UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz said in a news release.

“This transformational gift truly empowers our university to foster social mobility throughout our region,” Sánchez Muñoz said.

The university declined to provide information about the benefactor, other than to say the donor has given money to UC Merced for many years to support the Gateway Scholarship Program.

The new endowment is the latest milestone in the newest UC campus’s first fundraising campaign, which kicked off last fall and is dubbed “Boldly Forward.” The campaign’s goal is to raise $200 million by 2030. So far, donors have pledged $86.9 million.

The Boldly Forward campaign received a jumpstart last year with a donation of $15 million from Fred and Mitzie Ruiz of Ruiz Foods, based in Tulare County. UC Merced’s largest gift so far came in 2021, when MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist, novelist and ex-wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, contributed$20 million to UC Merced.

Student eligibility for the Gateway scholarships are based on their admission application to the University of California. They must have a 3.0 grade point average and demonstrate financial need.

This story was reported and edited by the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, cvlocaljournalism.org, a nonprofit newsroom based in Merced, CA.

Brianna Vaccari is an accountability and watchdog reporter for the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit newsroom launched in 2021 by the James B. McClatchy Foundation.