Over the past 42 years, the USC Latino Alumni Association has helped more than 8,000 Latino students fulfill their dreams of a USC education, awarding more than $15 million in scholarships.
The story of Stephanie Ashley Brito, the association’s John R. Hubbard Award winner for excellence, puts those figures in human terms. Brito’s award was announced at the association’s annual gala at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
The senior in biological sciences with a minor in global health was introduced to the nearly 800 attendees along with the other two nominees: María Jose Placsencia, soon to graduate with a degree in American studies and ethnicity; and Adrian Trinidad, who will embark on a PhD in urban education policy at USC after receiving his undergraduate degree in sociology this spring.
All three are first-generation students who have distinguished themselves academically and with volunteer service activities, global travel and leadership in many student organizations.
Latino Alumni Association board member Lupe Simpson EdD ’10, who presented the award to Brito, said that the excellence of the three candidates made the selection of the winner especially difficult this year.
An influential role model
Brito, in her acknowledgment speech, talked about the impact of her grandfather, Ramon Brito, who sold huaraches and tacos on the streets of Mexico City and “envisioned a world where every Latino would have equal access to medical treatment, medications and basic living necessities.” He made connections with hospitals and churches and founded Un Trailer de Ayuda (A Trailer of Hope), a nonprofit that brought physicians and dentists to rural villagers.
“He was my role model and living testament of the impact medicine can have on people’s lives,” she said.
It was her dream to become a physician and work alongside her grandfather in his nonprofit. His death from cancer robbed her of that opportunity.
[My grandfather] implanted a fire in my heart, and I was determined, even as a young seventh grader, to continue his legacy.
Stephanie Ashley Brito
“But our loved ones never truly leave us, do they?” she asked. “He implanted a fire in my heart, and I was determined, even as a young seventh grader, to continue his legacy.”
Nose to the grindstone
Brito said she attended high school in Santa Clarita, “where no one looked like me in my AP and honors classes, and the statistics were telling me that it wasn’t even likely I would get my diploma.”
She spent long nights studying, bringing books and notes with her when she went out with her family or waited in line for a movie or even during Thanksgiving dinner. She graduated with a 4.5 GPA and was accepted at the University of California, Berkeley, UCLA and USC.
“When I visited the other college campuses, I received a list of criteria that I needed to accomplish to become a competitive pre-med student,” she said. “I often felt overwhelmed and that something in the campus atmosphere was missing.”
At USC, she met with Latino Alumni Association Executive Director Domenika Lynch ’98, who “sat me down and asked me how I was doing, like an old friend. She reassured me that if I came to USC, the Trojan Family would be there for me.” At the end of our meeting, “she took me by the hand and pulled me in for a warm, motherly hug. I was sold!”
At USC, Brito was able to travel to Honduras for two weeks with the USC Global Medical Brigade, assisting local physicians in providing clinical services for villagers living outside of the capital — “just as my grandfather before me.” She developed an environmental studies curriculum, empowering young Latinos and African-American children to play a role in their community’s health. And she developed an Latino Alumni Association medical peer mentor program, bringing USC medical students and pre-meds together to inspire pride in being a Latino pursuing a career in medicine.
Brito concluded her speech by declaring, “It is my dream that I will come back to the USC campus as a physician and inspire a young Latino or Latina pre-med — like me — and show them that their dream is attainable.”
Raising funds and awareness
Verizon live-streamed the sold-out black tie event, which netted $330,000 for scholarships and attracted luminaries including Rep. Loretta Sanchez, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles City Council member Gil Cedillo.
The mistress of ceremonies was Angélica Vale, co-host of the Telemundo show Qué Noche! The keynote speaker was Henry G. Cisneros, former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who currently is chairman of CityView, which works in 13 states to create affordable homes.
Cisneros, the parent of a 2010 Trojan graduate, called the USC Latino Alumni Association “the most effective, active, robust, minority-founded alumni association of any university in America,” specifically complimenting Lynch, who was celebrating her 10th anniversary in her administrative role.
Former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin presented the association’s Legacy Award to Susan Sifuentes Trigueros ’82, the regional public affairs manager of the Southern California Gas Co. Trigueros, who has received numerous honors for her community and advocacy work, dedicated her award to her late father.
Al Checcio, USC senior vice president for university advancement, spoke at the event, noting that the association is two-thirds of the way toward its goal of raising $3 million for student scholarships.