Five alumni of Flowing Wells High School are beginning the academic year with full scholarships to the University of Arizona, thanks to the Sandra, Pamela, and Polly Aley Scholarship Endowment.
Incoming first-year student Samantha Guerrero is beginning her studies without the worry of taking on debt. The Sandra, Pamela, and Polly Aley Scholarship will cover tuition, fees, and room and board for up to six years as long as she maintains eligibility criteria. The University of Arizona was a top-choice school for her because she sees the community as a welcoming one.
"It's a beautiful gift," said Guerrero, who plans to study biology in preparation for medical school.
Donor Sandra Aley was an alumna of Flowing Wells High School, located on Tucson's northwest side, and UArizona. She died of pancreatic cancer in January. A $4.6 million gift from her estate created the scholarship, which was named in honor of Aley, her sister, Pamela, and her mother, Polly.
"She felt the money that she, her sister and her mom accumulated needed to support the graduates who could not go to college if they did not have a scholarship," said Debra Bergman, her cousin, who added that Aley wanted to help students avoid heavy debt burdens.
Aley's gift is the largest ever for Flowing Wells High School students, 75% of whom live in poverty, said Principal James Brunenkant. The school offers an advanced studies gold diploma for graduates who take college preparatory classes and finish with a B average or better, or in the top quarter of the graduating class.
A school profile from 2017 and 2018 showed half of graduating seniors earned the gold diploma. The profile also showed 48% of graduates planned to go to a two-year college, and only 25% planned to attend a four-year university.
"The No. 1 reason is finances," said Brunenkant. "One of the struggles we have is that they just don't think if they apply for scholarships they will get them. They don't give themselves enough credit."
Knowing these scholarships are earmarked for Flowing Wells High School graduates to attend the University of Arizona will help change the conversation, Brunenkant said. After this first year, the endowment will fund six to seven new scholarships each year for students who have financial need and demonstrate academic merit.
"Sandra Aley's generosity has begun making an enormous difference in individuals' and families' lives in this community, and at this university. As an endowed gift, the impact of her generosity will continue and multiply exponentially," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "I am so glad to see this new opportunity for Flowing Wells High School students to pursue their higher education goals, and I am honored that such an inspiring alumna has enabled the success of current and future Wildcats for years to come."
Family and Community
Aley was the first in her immediate family to attend college. Aley's and Bergman's families were close, with Aley's mother taking on some caregiving of her nieces, Bergman and her sister, Kathy. This helped Bergman's mother, Alice Paul, earn three Arizona degrees.
Paul was the first Tohono O'odham tribe member to earn a doctoral degree and serve as head of the UArizona College of Education's teacher education department. Aley was an excellent student. When Aley graduated high school, Paul encouraged her to attend UArizona and helped her find scholarships.
Aley completed a degree in pharmaceutical sciences and worked in the field for several years before becoming a flight attendant for American Airlines. She worked from New York City, led a team and flew international routes before returning to Tucson to care for her mother.
Aley inherited money from her sister and mother and was a saver herself, Bergman said. She decided to establish a planned gift while still healthy, and she considered the fact that the Flowing Wells student population had changed since she and her cousins attended and the student body was predominantly white.
"Sandy was one of the first to say, 'Hey, you don't talk to my cousin that way.' Because of that, she had a much broader perception of racism and how people of color can struggle and what she wanted to support," said Bergman.
The student body of Flowing Wells High School is now 70% Hispanic. Aley wanted to help ethnically diverse and first-generation students and pass on some of the good fortune she received in the form of encouragement and advice from her aunt, said Bergman.
“As academic achievers, I know the students who receive this money will take full advantage of it and will realize what a great gift she has bestowed," she said. Aley's story is a testament to the lasting value of education, said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation.
"Sandra Aley's education meant a great deal to her throughout her life, and she gave others from her community the same opportunity while also honoring her family. Her gift is a tremendous legacy," said Roczniak.