Last spring, the students — Joselyn Delgado of Los Angeles, Lauriano Bucio of Long Beach and Stephanie Badillo of San Diego — entered the $100,000 Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Scholarship Competition sponsored by Sam’s Club, a national retail business. Participants had to develop a plan to increase the company’s visibility in Latino populations.
The scholarship competition was open to students enrolled at universities with an HSI designation from the U.S. Department of Education. To earn that status, a school must have a Hispanic student population of at least 25 percent. UC Merced and UC Riverside are the only University of California campuses with an HSI designation. HSI schools are eligible for federal funding, grants and programs.
Winning was a great surprise, the students said, because they heard about the competition from an advisor during final exams week, and the contest’s deadline was only days away. With little time to spare, the trio worked quickly and pulled together a marketing plan in about three days.
The group worked with two advisors, lecturer S.A. Davis and visiting professor Mark Harris. Delgado had taken Davis’ marketing class, and the concepts she learned were still fresh in her mind.
“My job is to make these students the best leaders in a professional environment and to get them prepared to compete with students from some of the best schools in the nation,” said Davis.
Bucio launched into research mode and learned what he could about the company’s history, founding philosophy and culture. Badillo and Delgado, meanwhile, took to the Internet. They examined Sam’s Club’s website and used Facebook to conduct a marketing survey.
The team did field research by visiting a San Joaquin Valley Sam’s Club and a local grocery store in Merced that caters to Hispanic customers. The trio wanted to see firsthand what the grocery store was doing to successfully connect with and serve their customers. After they submitted their proposal, the students were contacted by the company for a phone interview.
The team learned in October that they were among the winners, and each chosen team received $20,000. Delgado, Bucio, Badillo and UC Merced each got $5,000. The prize also included a trip to Washington, D.C., where the students were honored during a dinner and were able to network with business executives.
The competition and scholarship have been a boon, said the team. The experience gave them a chance to put knowledge they’ve learned at UC Merced to work and to perform as a cohesive team. And the money couldn’t have come at a better time.
For Bucio, who is studying economics  and management, the scholarship will help cover expenses so he can focus on school. “I was low on money, and it’s stressful,” he said.
Badillo, who has worked two jobs while taking classes, said the money provides her with a sense of security. Delgado, who has two siblings currently enrolled in college and is financing her own education, plans to use the money for graduate school.
The students laud the experiences they’ve had while at UC Merced.
“The faculty is amazing, and the support they give students is wonderful,” said Badillo, who plans to attend law school after she graduates.
Delgado echoed similar sentiments.
“The faculty and staff are constantly telling me about opportunities I should look into, and these opportunities are learning experiences that go beyond the classroom,” Delgado said. “I chose UC Merced because it has so much potential. We are the generation that is creating UC Merced’s history.”