Starting a New Chapter: College Graduation and Beyond

Students Rising Above works to close college attainment gaps and helps students break the cycle of poverty by achieving their college and career dreams. With SRA’s support, 91% of our students graduate from college in 5 years or less, and 88% are entering career-ladder positions or grad school within 12 months post-graduation. The success of SRA graduates proves that when we invest in our students’ vast potential, the benefits are real, measurable, and widespread.

We’re thrilled for our 80+ graduates this year, as they begin their journeys following their college experience. They are now busy preparing for their future careers and plans in graduate school, many of them giving back to their own communities. Meet some of our graduates and learn what they’re excited for now that they’ve graduated from college.


Maria Zavala, graduating from UC Santa Barbara, has worked at UCSB Financial Aid Office since her first year of college, and was impressively hired there full-time! She’s thrilled to be able to support other first-generation college students, helping them find resources that she wished she had when she started college. As a Biology major, her favorite college experience was sitting in lectures taught by inspiring scientists – it helped her appreciate how far she’s come.

“As a 6-year-old immigrant girl, I did not picture myself making it through elementary school, let alone making it to college & sitting amongst my peers in a class taught by incredibly inspiring and intelligent scientists. This, of course, would not have been possible without SRA who held my hand throughout the entire way.”

In her recent feature on NPR’s Here & Now, she reflected back on her college journey as a first-generation college student and as a DACA recipient.


Nyia Roberts, CSU Sonoma graduate with a degree in Sociology, is thrilled to have completed college and begin her fellowship as an Academic Advisor for a college access program, Destination College Advising Corps. DCAC was the program that helped Nyia find Students Rising Above as a high school junior.

“I am most excited to be giving back to my community and help other first-generation students while following my own dreams before I attend graduate school.”

In college, one of her favorite experiences was interning with the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s office in Juvenile Court. It helped her discover how she wants to help people, and she’s proud that her internship and college experience helped her do so.


David Padilla, graduating from UC Berkeley, is thrilled to be working at the City of Richmond as a Management Analyst in the Richmond Department of Children and Youth. He’s worked with the City of Richmond since landing an internship there, and he left such an impression during his first summer internship, he has been invited back every year and has now landed this full-time role!

“Since 2016, I have worked in the Richmond community to implement health policy and promote health equity. Having grown up in Richmond and San Pablo, I look forward to this new journey as I work to ensure a better future for my community’s youth.”


Maggie Hu, graduating from San Diego State University, has dreamed of becoming a nurse since she was in high school and is thrilled to start her career! She recently passed her Nursing Boards Exam and accepted an RN New Graduate Residency Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles as an oncology nurse. She plans to work for a few years before advancing her practice as a Family Nurse Practitioner by pursuing a Doctorate Degree in Nursing.

While in college, she participated in a medical mission in Thailand as a nursing student. She valued the experience of traveling abroad and providing free health services to underserved communities, something she is very passionate about.

She shares, “The opportunity to study abroad with fellow nursing students, doctors, and physical therapists allowed me to fulfill both my passions of volunteerism and healthcare. We served over 500 patients in various villages, providing free medications, toys, shoes, and backpacks.”


Brenda De Jesus Acosta, graduating from UC Santa Cruz, is thrilled to be heading back to UCSC this Summer as a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Education department. Along with a Masters degree, she will be seeking a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential along with a Bilingual Authorization in Spanish! She’s excited to continue expanding her love for education.

One of her favorite undergraduate courses was a research course that allowed her to go to Watsonville and conduct surveys to contribute to the No Place Like Home research project. She shares, “I enjoyed getting to know the Watsonville community as I conducted surveys in Spanish at their homes or while I distributed free groceries through different organizations.”


Sylvia Sarabia, graduating from UC San Diego with a degree in International Business, can’t wait to continue exploring the world. She plans to use her degree to work for an international company and work abroad.

A college experience that shaped her future plans was her year-long study abroad experience Madrid, Spain. She shares, “I was learning Spanish and taking classes for my degree. I really enjoyed being in Europe and learning so much about different cultures, languages, and being able to travel to different countries. It was such a life changing experience”


We’re thrilled for all our graduates and applaud their hard work. Follow Students Rising Above on social media for more updates on our upcoming graduates: Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Instagram.