For County College of Morris (CCM) student Renata Mauriz, learning created a sense of security, but her education wasn’t always guaranteed. She needed to push to get the opportunities she felt she deserved.
The Succasunna resident has been rewarded for that dedication, as she has been selected as one of only 90 winners nationwide of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship.
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation supports outstanding community college students with financial need to earn their bachelor’s degrees. As a recipient, Mauriz will receive up to $40,000 per year for two to three years to attend a four-year college or university.
“I am still in disbelief,” said Mauriz, a liberal arts major who will graduate this May. “This is truly an incredible opportunity.”
It is an opportunity she’s been fighting for since she moved to the United States from Brazil at the age of 12 with her mother and brother. Starting her education here in sixth grade as a speaker of Portuguese and without English fluency, she found herself in English as a Second Language classes.
“I wanted to learn English so bad,” Mauriz recalled. “I also knew education was my purpose. That’s why my mother brought me here.”
When she graduated from Roxbury High School in 2011, undocumented students looking to go to county or state schools were considered international students and were required to pay out-of-state tuition. For Mauriz, that meant working full-time to pay to go to one or two classes per semester for the first two years of her college career.
In the beginning of 2013, she joined statewide efforts to push for the passage of the New Jersey DREAM Act which was passed into law in December 2013, making it possible for her to pay in-state tuition. Mauriz continues to help drive legislation in Trenton and thanks Morristown-based immigrant resource center Wind of the Spirit and its cofounder Diana Mejia for helping to teach her selflessness and how to care for the needs of her community.
At CCM, Mauriz has also created a path for undocumented students to receive financial aid. She spearheaded the fundraising efforts to create a scholarship for undocumented students. The scholarship is sponsored by CCM’s Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society, of which Mauriz is the vice president of leadership. Mauriz has also been involved in the CCM Student Government Association and Diversity Committee, among other groups.
“There is need everywhere and, as she has so clearly demonstrated, Renata is the type of person who possesses a strong passion for helping others to reach their potential,” said Dr. Edward J. Yaw, president of CCM.
On the Diversity Committee, Mauriz is the student representative among faculty and staff. She said she has received a great deal of support from the committee and its co-chair, Dr. Jill Schennum, professor of sociology.
“She makes me feel like I’m on an equal level with all of the other members,” Mauriz said. “She was the first professor at CCM who I could openly speak to about my undocumented status. As an educator who believes in the power of civic engagement, she supported my advocacy efforts and encouraged me to push even further.”
Mauriz also thanks her friend and CCM graduate Sean Moore for encouraging her to apply for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. Moore was awarded the scholarship two years ago. Mauriz is the third CCM student over the past four years to be so honored.
Mauriz also thanks Laura Gabrielson, advisor of the Honors program and assistant chair of English at CCM, for reigniting her passion for literature. She calls Don Phelps, associate director of Campus Life, “one of the most genuine people I know.” She also noted that Yaw and Dr. Bette Simmons, vice president of Student Development and Enrollment Management, played key roles in her academic success. And she said that PTK President Angelique Onorati is one of her biggest sources of support.
She also has nothing but love and respect for her mother and step-father, a Portuguese immigrant. She recognizes her mother’s strength going to work from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. every day for her children and hopes that with this new opportunity she can someday be the one taking care of her. She admires her step-father’s hard work in construction, calling him one of the most intelligent people she knows, but who didn’t have the same opportunities she has.
With the newest opportunity she has earned for herself, Mauriz plans to dual major in public policy and anthropology, and then attend law school.
“I know many other deserving students who are forced to work two or three jobs while in school to afford an education that they can't even focus on because of stresses created by socioeconomic factors,” she said. “This tremendous opportunity will equip me with new tools and resources that I can use to improve some of these conditions while continuing to serve my community.”
# # #Photo: From left to right, Dr. Bette Simmons, vice president of Student Development and Enrollment Management; Renata Mauriz; and Edward J. Yaw, president of CCM, celebrate after learning Mauriz was selected to receive the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship.