Campus News

New scholarship helps student earn first degree in family

A Georgia Commitment Scholarship made Mitzi Samano Leano's dream to attend college a reality. (Photo by Edwin Hammond).

Undergraduate Mitzi Samano Leano is the first Georgia Bulldog in her family and the first to pursue a college degree. The University of Georgia was the school of Leano’s and her family’s dreams. A Georgia Commitment Scholarship made this dream a reality.

“UGA was academically and socially where I wanted to pursue my education and reach my overall goals,” Leano said. “My scholarship is the only thing keeping me here. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to pay for my education.”

Leano was the first to be awarded the Ernesto and Jamie Perez Scholarship. When she received her scholarship notification, she felt “utter disbelief.” She read the letter out loud to her family and “the whole house erupted in joy.”

Before this news, Leano and her family considered universities closer to home to save on room and board expenses. Unlike UGA, many of the options Leano looked at did not have graduate degree programs in her intended field: ­dietetics. This is another reason she is grateful that the Perez Scholarship helped her get to Athens.

“It would have been tough to stay on the path that I’m on once I finished my bachelor’s [at another university.] That’s really why I was more than inclined to come to UGA,” Leano said. “That’s why my scholarship was such amazing news.”

Ernie Perez, 1989 UGA alumnus, established his family’s scholarship as part of the Georgia Commitment Scholarship Program in 2017. Through this program, the UGA Foundation matches gifts of $50,000, $75,000 or $100,000 to endow an undergraduate need-based scholarship. Perez wanted to help remove the financial barriers that many students face while also honoring the UGA education that led to his professional success.

Leano developed a passion for nutrition the summer before her first year at UGA. Now, she is pursuing a degree in dietetics from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. She is interested in a career helping pregnant women with their “nutritional journeys.” She especially would like to assist young mothers-to-be who don’t have access to trustworthy nutritional advice.

Leano also joined the Hispanic Student Association’s first-year committee and is helping plan the spring gala. Additionally, she is a member of TRIO, a federal program that offers resources like quiet study spots and free tutoring to first-generation college students. Through her campus involvement, Leano found a “tight-knit group of people,” who have helped her transition to college life.

As Leano continues her UGA journey, she plans to seek mentors who can help her achieve her ultimate ambition to start her own clinical dietetics practice. As a Georgia Commitment Scholarship recipient, she will benefit from programming that helps students build a professional network. From success panels with graduating seniors to luncheons with alumni from top corporate employers, the Georgia Commitment Scholarship program enhances the financial support provided to recipients with academic and career coaching.