When Samantha Patricia Navarro was a senior in high school, there wasn’t much talk around the house about her going to college. Her parents, who worked in the cherry and almond orchards in and around Modesto, were surprised when she brought it up. 

“They had planned on me working and helping out with the bills,” Navarro said. And why not? That’s what they had done, much earlier in their lives, in fact. Navarro’s father made it through sixth grade before he quit school to earn money; her mother dropped out of high school to work. 

“It was kind of an understanding that my parents wouldn’t be able to give me much guidance,” Navarro said. “I had to step up and seek out information and look for a mentor.”

She was in junior high when she first met Aaron Sanchez, a guidance counselor and tutor in her school’s TRiO program, a federal student services outreach designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. The program helps low-income individuals, first-generation college students and students with disabilities progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to college.

Sanchez, Navarro said, supported her with advice and tutoring all the way through her graduation from Modesto Junior College. 

“Aaron was my mentor for years,” Navarro said. “I saw how he helped me, and I knew I wanted to do that, too.”

With Sanchez’s support, Navarro was accepted into University of California, Merced, where she graduated with a degree in psychology and a minor in public health. 

Now, Navarro is a second-year graduate student at Fresno State, where she majors in experimental psychology and maintains a 4.0 graduate-level GPA. Her research on human judgment will soon be published in an academic journal.

She was also one of 23 students chosen by the California State University (one from each campus) to receive the 2022 CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement, the CSU system’s highest recognition of student achievement. As Fresno State’s awardee, she is the Trustee Emeritus Peter Mehas Scholar.

The awardees were recognized for their superior achievements during the Committee on Institutional Advancement portion of the CSU Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 13.

“I was very surprised that I got it, but I feel like it’s a way to honor my mentors and professors,” Navarro said. “It lets me know that I am able to succeed despite my background.”

Now halfway through her graduate career, Navarro works as a graduate teaching associate and was honored as the best teaching assistant of the year for providing students with an exceptional learning experience. She’s passionate about teaching and mentoring college students and stays connected to her community as well, volunteering with higher education outreach for K-12 students and supporting farmworkers through the United Farm Workers organization. 

After graduating in spring 2023, Navarro plans to pursue a doctorate in cognitive psychology and become a professor in the CSU system so she can support underrepresented students in higher education. 

And though it took them a while to say it, Navarro’s parents have recently told her how proud they are.

“They can see how important [education] is now,” Navarro said. 

The Trustees’ Award is the university’s highest recognition of student achievement. Each award provides a donor-funded scholarship to students who demonstrate superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service and financial need. Awardees have all demonstrated inspirational resolve along the path to college success and many are the first in their families to attend college.

More than 420 students have been honored with the Trustees’ Award since the scholarship program was established in 1984 by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. In 1999, the Hearst Foundation partnered with the CSU Board of Trustees to supplement the endowment with contributions from CSU Trustees, CSU Foundation board members and private donors. 

Visit the CSU website for bios on all 23 scholars.​