Emelyn Gonzalez Ceja spent her freshman year at Fresno State taking classes online and helping her dad run his small Fresno pretzel shop on her days off.
The pandemic hit the family business hard, shutting it down for a couple months. Business still has not returned to normal. Ceja didn’t know how her dad, the breadwinner in their eight-person family, could afford to send her and her older sister to college. The sophomore chemistry major also plans to go to graduate school and doesn’t want to add more debt for her or her father.
At the start of the fall semester, Ceja’s worries were eased when she learned she was the recipient of the C. Ray Steele Jr. and Mary Lou Steele Endowed Scholarship. The four-year renewable scholarship covers tuition and fees.
“Having donors like these reassures you that you’re on the right path and doing the right thing,” said Ceja, now a sophomore chemistry major with plans to go into anesthesiology. “It’s a good feeling [for them] to believe enough in you to fund your dreams. Some people have dreams they can’t achieve because money is an obstacle. Seeing someone grant you this gift is a relieving feeling. Thank you so much for believing in me and my dreams, and believing I can make something for myself.”
Ray Steele, a Fresno State alumnus, past chair of Fresno State’s Foundation Board of Governors, and retired president and publisher of The Fresno Bee, and his wife, who both grew up in Fowler, have long supported students at Fresno State. They continued their commitment to supporting student success with an additional $100,000 gift for the C. Ray Steele Jr. and Mary Lou Steele Endowed Scholarship.
Through generous donors like the Steeles, gifts to the University during the 2020-21 academic year totaled about $28.4 million — $24 million for academics and $4.3 million for athletics.
“It is inspiring to see that during especially difficult times, good-hearted Fresno State alumni and friends like Ray and Mary Lou Steele shone through to support our talented students,” said Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval. “Their generosity affirms a legacy that empowers and encourages our bright students, and in doing so, furthers the social and economic vitality of our region.”
Philanthropy touched all areas of the University, especially in terms of student scholarships as many grappled with learning virtually at home, with reduced work hours or no jobs at all and, for some, the loss of loved ones.
Here’s a look at some of the noteworthy gifts from the past year:
- $5 million from the Perenchio Foundation to establish the Perenchio Family Endowed Scholarship Fund to support student scholarships.
- $1.5 million from Lou and Jane Amendola to support the Amendola Family Student Cupboard.
- $350,000 from Chevron to support the Veterans Education Program, the Fresno State Mobile Health Unit and chemistry lab renovations.
- $200,000 from Emeterio and Desiree Castro to establish the Ethan Emmett Castro Hard of Hearing Endowment in the Silent Garden, which supports the Silent Garden, a program that fosters opportunity, understanding and awareness for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
- $259,000 from William and Karen Podolsky to establish the William and Karen Podolsky Endowed Scholarship Fund to support scholarships for students majoring in science and mathematics.
- $30,000 from Nell Papavasiliou for the Nell Papavasiliou and David Hampton Charitable Lead Trust to establish an endowed scholarship for students majoring in the Lyles College of Engineering.
- A bequest (the amount is confidential) from Ron Samuel to support scholarships for students in agriculture.
“Thank you to our passionate donors for believing in Fresno State,” said Paula Castadio, vice president for University Advancement. “Our students stand resilient and poised for success because of your generous and lasting support.”