When Mariana Gonzalez was 9, her family moved from Colombia to the United States, seeking better opportunities. Her parents immediately found jobs, but they also found the cost of living much higher than expected.

“We lacked a support system during financial hardships, leading us to live in a garage for three years due to housing unaffordability,” said Mariana, now 17.

Finances got even tighter during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her mother lost her job as a clinic cleaner, leaving her father to work long hours as a trash collector and later as a driver for Lyft to support the family. Eventually, her mother found a new job at Amazon Fresh.

Inspired by her parents’ sacrifices, Mariana excelled in her studies, maintaining a 4.0 GPA at Downey High School. She also took on leadership roles, including captain of the junior varsity tennis team. Her academic and athletic achievements earned her numerous awards, including Student of the Month and Downey Tennis Outstanding Player.

She’s most proud of her role on the Striking Vikings, Downey High school’s robotics team.

“We are a group of students passionate about STEM, often from underrepresented communities,” she said. “We don’t receive district funding, so we raise money ourselves through activities like selling popcorn and seeking donations from companies, which is often challenging. This year, we won the Utah regional competition for the first time in eight years of competing, thanks to our team’s incredible and smart individuals.”

Now, she is ready for her next challenge – studying architecture and inventive technology at USC. And she is receiving a little extra help with the costs from Hope through Housing, which awarded her $1,000 and a laptop.

Mariana’s passion for architecture was inspired by her father’s love for technology and their favorite TV show, “Knight Rider.”

“I got into ‘Knight Rider’ shortly after arriving in the U.S. My father had always spoken fondly of the show from his childhood. Watching it together every night became a way for us to escape the economic and cultural hardships we were facing.”

The Hope through Housing scholarship will help cover the cost of school supplies and lab fees. Mariana said she wants to use her education to improve her family’s financial situation and honor her parents’ sacrifices.

“Winning this scholarship is immensely meaningful. It validates all my efforts throughout high school, balancing grades, extracurriculars, and helping my parents.”




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