LAD Scholar Series

SOU Welcomes First Generation Scholarship Student Mayra Sanchez Contreras to Campus

SOU Welcomes First Generation Scholarship Student Mayra Sanchez Contreras to Campus

About the LAD Scholars 

When SOU welcomed six Lithia & Driveway (LAD) Scholars this fall, it marked an exciting new era in scholarship support on campus. This addition to the university community stems from LAD’s substantial philanthropic commitment in 2022—a ten-year commitment to fund diversity and sustainability efforts. Over the course of the next few months, SOU will highlight each of these first-year scholar’s stories.  

The LAD Scholar program presents a comprehensive package for student development beyond financial support and scholarships. In addition to direct scholarship aid, the program includes a comprehensive set of wrap-around services to cultivate leadership skills, develop experiential learning opportunities in the form of paid internships, and fostering a sense of belonging through a cohort model. LAD Scholars also will benefit from mentorship within the university as well as with leaders within the LAD community.  

From Medford to SOU: Being a Place-Bound Student 

Among these scholars is Mayra Sanchez Contreras, a native of Medford, Oregon. Mayra, a first-generation college student, is dedicated to the pursuit of education and aspires to contribute to the field as an elementary or middle school teacher, a dream she’s had since she was very young. Mayra comes from a tight-knit family. Her father is an entrepreneur who recently opened his own business, and her mother works in the fruit packaging industry. Both have provided the anchor for Mayra’s ambitions.  

In the eighth grade, Mayra became a participant in a dedicated program tailored for Latinx students within the Medford School District. Facilitated in collaboration with SOU, this initiative seamlessly extended from eighth grade throughout Mayra’s entire high school years. For Mayra, the decision to attend SOU was not merely a geographical choice but a culmination of experiences and a genuine understanding of the university’s offerings. Through events and campus visits, Mayra gained invaluable insights into the academic and cultural landscape of SOU. This informed decision-making process laid the groundwork for her future.  

For Mayra, a significant motivator to attend college was the desire to reciprocate the immense sacrifices and efforts made by Mayra’s parents, particularly her mom, who navigated the challenges of single parenthood for a considerable period of her youth. The goal was clear—to give back and express profound gratitude for the unwavering support provided to her. 

Mayra says,

“It’s super meaningful for me to be the first in my family to attend college. Being a first-gen college student feels like I’m creating a whole new educational legacy.” 

Community Involvement 

Mayra has been a dedicated student and community member. In high school, she established strong connections with teachers, seeking help when needed, and actively participated in programs offering after-school tutoring and college application support that were important to her success.  

Mayra says, “I find pride in establishing meaningful connections with my teachers. Additionally, the support from the Latino student program was really important. From after-school tutoring sessions to guidance in navigating scholarship applications and college admissions processes, it was instrumental in getting me to SOU.” 

Her commitment to community service is evident with her involvement with Unete, a farmworker advocacy nonprofit organization in Medford. Throughout her high school years, Mayra delved into Unete’s initiatives, notably contributing to a vital vaccine clinic designed for the Latino and Hispanic community. Recognizing the real challenges posed by language barriers, Mayra stepped in, offering her assistance in form-filling and translation. Her commitment caught the attention of Unete’s staff, leading to her official inclusion as a staff member of the organization. 

Now an integral part of Unete’s team, Mayra has shifted her focus to high school programming addressing climate change. Transporting students to diverse locations, this initiative goes beyond traditional education—it takes students into the field while learning important insights into climate-related complexities. Including a variety of events and trips, Mayra’s work with Unete reflects not only a dedication to community service but also a dynamic approach to addressing pressing societal issues. 

 A group of people standing in front of waterfall smiling.

Mayra, middle, pictured with the staff of Unete.

Academic Pathways

Mayra was nominated to the Bridge program by SOU Faculty member Jessica Piekielek because of her work with Unete. The Bridge program has proved to be a rich place of knowledge and camaraderie, providing a platform for Mayra and other cohort members to dive into a variety of topics. From navigating the intricacies of the first-year college experience to sharing deeply personal stories, the program has become an important place for Mayra to meet friends from diverse backgrounds.  

With SOU’s strong academic curriculum, students are exposed to diverse cultures, ideas, and perspectives, and Mayra is no exception. It was in a recent Digital Cinema class that Mayra saw a compelling documentary which told the story of a military veteran in Indiana post-911. Confronting ingrained stereotypes about Afghanistan and Muslims, he initially perceived everyone from that region as inherently adversarial. Yet, the documentary unveils a profound metamorphosis as he transcends preconceived notions of a close-knit Muslim community, realizing the inherent goodness within this community. It impacted Mayra deeply. She says, “It was a good reminder of the problem with stereotypes and generalizations.” 

Mayra finds joy in exploring new places with her family. A recent trip to San Francisco stands out, where the focus was on immersing themselves in the vibrant local culture. Mayra would like to extend her love of travel to academics, and eventually study abroad with one of the exchange programs at SOU.  

Scholarship Impact 

Important to Mayra’s educational path is her financial independence and following her dreams without burdening her parents, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayra has worked hard to fund her education and provide for herself. The LAD scholarship she received has played a critical role in alleviating some of the financial burden she carried. 

Mayra says, “Receiving this scholarship was an emotional whirlwind for me. When I got the notification, I cried, and my immediate reaction was to share the news with my mother.”

She continues,

“This scholarship not only lightened the financial burden but is also a recognition of my dedication and potential.” 

Mayra’s story is emblematic of the impact of philanthropy on student lives. Each student, with their unique story, contributes to the diversity within the university community, and scholarships are an important pathway to this diversity.  

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