For many students, it takes more than brilliant professors, hours of study, and supportive classmates to succeed in college. Often, a gesture as simple as a book scholarship, or a conversation with someone who’s walked in your shoes, so to speak, can mean the difference between earning straight As and struggling to stay afloat.
For Latino students needing that extra boost toward graduation, there’s plenty of “esperanza,” or hope, for the future, thanks in part to Dr. Shivonne L. Laird ’99, biological sciences.
One of the founding members of UMBC’s Chapter of Black & Latino Alumni (CBLA), Laird also helped establish the Esperanza Fund committee, which is dedicated to endowing a scholarship that would support students of Latino heritage and/or students who are committed to the advancement of minorities, especially of Latino or Hispanic descent. In a little over a year and a half, the committee has raised $11,700 toward the $25,000 needed for an endowment.
“I thought it was important to form a network of minority alumni, both to support each other socially and professionally, and to inspire current minority UMBC students to achieve what we have achieved,” said Laird, a policy analyst for the University of Maryland School of Medicine who also happens to be of Panamanian descent.
“I felt that minority students could look at the members of CBLA, knowing that we all once were where they are, and see their futures.”
A Unique Perspective
Laird came to UMBC in 1994 as a member of the sixth cohort of the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program. Early on in her student career, she joined the newly-formed Hispanic/Latino Student Union, and later became a co-founder of the first Latina sorority on campus, Lambda Theta Alpha.
For Laird, this was not only an opportunity to explore her own heritage, but a chance to see up-close the challenges other Latinos on campus faced.
“We understood each other, and were consequently able to support each other in a way that others did not always understand,” she said.
“There were some students that were struggling to balance their personal and financial obligations…with their desire to do well and finish school, and we were sometimes able to find solutions for these students that fit within our cultural priorities.”
After graduation, Laird went on to earn her master’s degree from Tulane University in Louisiana, and her Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University. Although she left the academics of UMBC behind, she has steadily volunteered with the UMBC Alumni Association for the good of her alma mater. In addition to her work with C-BLA and the Esperanza Fund committee, Laird serves on the Alumni Association Board of Directors.
“Shivonne is an amazing volunteer,” said Stanyell Bruce, Assoc. Director of Alumni Relations.
“She saw a real need here at UMBC and felt that as an alumna her greatest contribution would be support current and future Latino students through the Esperanza Fund. Her energy, compassion and commitment to the Latino community and to students at UMBC helps to keep everyone motivated and on task with endowing the fund.”
In addition to raising money for scholarships, the Esperanza Fund committee also plans social and networking events to help students and alumni connect, often while also learning about issues of heritage, or listening to Latin music. Upcoming events include an “Esperanza Scholarship Social” at Restaurante Ceviche in Silver Spring on September 12, as well as a “Sabor Latino” social event in the UMBC Commons on October 16.
Laird truly enjoys every chance she has to interact with current students.
“I want to show them how important it is to give back to your community,” she said. “I believe that if even one of us comes back to campus after graduation, we can start a legacy of helping those who need to get to where we are.”
– Jenny O’Grady
Originally posted September 2008