MILWAUKEE — Samantha Gonzalez is a healthcare hero, beginning her work as a nurse in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I started right off as a COVID nurse. Right before I graduated, I had the job lined up and I just transferred to the NICU, which is the neonatal intensive care unit," Gonzalez said.
She's a first generation college student and graduated from Carroll University in 2020 with a double major in nursing and Spanish, and a minor in psychology. She was able to attain her education in part thanks to scholarships from the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation (WHSF).
"Every year I was able to be a recipient and that went to tuition, books, everything," she said.
WHSF is the organization behind Mexican Fiesta, which is the largest fundraiser for the scholarship program. Since 1987, over $1.8 million in scholarships went to Hispanic students in Wisconsin. WHSF said 40% of recipients have been first-generation students.
"They come to our foundation looking for an opportunity to continue their education," said WHSF Executive Director Teresa Mercado. "The main idea is to support them financially, but we want them to come back to our community and be a part of the community, in hoping that in the near future they will be the leaders."
Gonzalez is already doing just that. At this year's Mexican Fiesta, she was named the 2021 Ambassador, hoping to inspire more people in Wisconsin's Hispanic community to pursue education.
"Growing up I didn't have many women role models that were going to school - Latina - had the same background as me," Gonzalez said. "It was really hard having to do that on you own and not having someone in the Latino community to go through that with you. So I decided why not be one of them?"
In her role as ambassador, she'll help promote Mexican culture in Milwaukee and work with current scholarship recipients. She said she also wants to encourage more people to go into healthcare fields. She's currently working with the United Community Center's new two-year nursing program.
"We do need more bilingual staff... there was only one other nurse on our unit that could speak Spanish besides me, and so you feel like you carry this responsibility. Like this could be my mom, this could be my dad, this could be my grandpa. And you want to be there for them at every step and make sure they're being taken care of," Gozalez said.
For more information on the WHSF scholarship and how to apply, click here.