OTC student struggling to make ends meet wins coveted scholarship


Finding an inexpensive path to college was so important to Giovanni Sanchez that he moved to Springfield out of the blue a few years ago.

Away from his family in California and Mexico, Giovanni focused. He went out of his way during his first semester at Ozarks Technical Community College to achieve a 4.0 GPA.

“What motivates me is to be the first in my family to go to college,” he said. “I want to prove to my family that I could do it, that it was worth sending me here on my own.”

He was still struggling to adjust to his new environment when he was invited to join the OTC Honors program. The Turner Family Foundation scholarship valued at $ 500 followed, providing a much needed boost.

“The first scholarship I got made me really happy,” recalls 20-year-old Giovanni. “It was really motivating to see someone listening to my story and wanting to help me.”

Giovanni’s story began in California, born to Mexican parents who lived and worked in the United States.

Giovanni Sanchez, far right, with his parents and sister in Mexico.

He is a US citizen but moved to Mexico at the age of 9 when his parents – first his mother and then his father – returned to their home country. It was like everything except his home, at first.

“As a kid you don’t really know what’s going on,” he said. “At the time, I was really lost. I didn’t understand.”

The move was shocking but Giovanni finally adjusted. He excelled academically and after graduating from Mexico returned to California to live with a sister and earn a high school diploma in the United States.

Giovanni wanted to go to college in California, closer to his family. But with limited funds and encouraging parents – but unable to help financially – he knew he had to get creative.

He chose Springfield and OTC, where the cost of living and tuition fees are low, after his older brother moved to the area for love.

“My brother said to me ‘You can come here and we’ll help you, take you to school and all that,” he recalls. “I came to Missouri and they helped me. I am grateful to them.”

He is one of the thousands of students from outside Missouri who flock to Springfield each year for higher education.

Many stay for a few years, adding to the vibrancy of the city or campus they frequent, and then leave. Others make this region their home.

Giovanni Sanchez, 20, was recently awarded the Purdy Emerging Leaders Fellowship.

For Giovanni, the difficult decision to move away from almost all of his united family in pursuit of an education and, ultimately, a better life, began to pay off.

He is the first OTC student to obtain the prestigious Purdy Emerging Leaders Scholarship, a Missouri-based undergraduate scholarship valued at $ 5,000 per year and renewable for up to three years.

This is the first year that community college students have been allowed to apply.

“Giovanni is a great student, a first generation student. He’s humble, respectful, just one of those kids you want to be successful,” said Todd Yerby, CTO Honor Program Director. “I am very happy that he is getting this scholarship, which will follow him wherever he transfers. He has worked extremely hard for it.”

Giovanni will graduate from OTC in December and transfer to Missouri State University, where he will major in computer science.

“I want to do software development,” Giovanni said.

He said winning the prestigious scholarship would provide much-needed respite from years of financial scratching.

“It will really help me a lot. I’m really grateful that I got it. I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I filled out the application just to try.”

He also gave back. For a service-learning course, he spent time cleaning and doing crafts for the Ronald McDonald Houses of the Ozarks charity.

Giovanni Sanchez, 20, is a student at Ozarks Technical Community College.  His family is in California and Mexico.

Giovanni lives with his brother Armando Cuellar, who helps with the rent, but has to cover almost all tuition and living costs.

“I’m really grateful for all the help he gave me at the start. Without him I wouldn’t be in the position I am today,” said Giovanni.

He works part-time at Einstein Bros. Bagels to make ends meet, save money, and pay Uber because he doesn’t have a car.

“Being here has made me more independent and made me mature,” he said, adding that it also “pushed me out of my comfort zone”.

He said starting college was the hardest because he didn’t have a scholarship or a job yet. He was focused on succeeding in class and didn’t know where to turn for help.

“I would literally starve myself. There would be days when I wouldn’t eat,” he recalls. “I have pictures and I’m looking at myself and I was really skinny. I looked terrible.”

Giovanni said he always saves more than he spends, but made some friends at OTC and had a plan for the future.

Giovanni Sanchez, middle, with his parents in Mexico.

He loved to reconnect with his older brother in Springfield, but he misses his parents. He visited them in Mexico during the summer.

“I had to learn what life is like without your parents. It was really hard, honestly,” he said. “I wish a lot more people would appreciate their parents and be grateful for all the help they give.”

Giovanni said his experience of being largely alone made him more open to helping others.

“Whenever we do group projects, I like to make sure everyone is included,” he said. “Everyone can invest a little in the project. It’s cooperative.

He said finishing college was a way to pay back the older siblings who kept him in California and Missouri. He also wants to be an example for the young members of his family.

“This is what really motivates me to keep going,” he said.

Giovanni Sanchez, 20, is a student at Ozarks Technical Community College.

Giovanni has said he is proud of his Mexican heritage and the lessons he has learned living in another country, but the United States is at his home and this is where he wants to live.

He said he wanted to settle down and help his parents immigrate legally to the United States so the whole family could be reunited again.

“My end goal is to get (my) parents back in the right direction and have them stay here forever,” he said.

About the series

The Future of the Ozarks series, featuring amazing students in the Ozarks, will be released on Mondays.

The series will feature students with incredible talent, accomplishment or passion to help others. To nominate someone, email Claudette Riley, education reporter, with details and contact information at [email protected]

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