Gene and Yolanda Camarena are well known for helping underserved Kansas youth improve their lives through education and other causes. Now the Wichita couple is enhancing that legacy with a $1 million gift to Wichita State University to give students of color opportunities they otherwise might not have.
A little more than half of the Camarenas’ gift pledge, $520,000, will provide high-impact scholarships to 20 Hispanic and Black students each year for the next four years. Wichita State will match that investment in full as part of its mission to provide affordable and accessible educational opportunities to underserved students.
The gift was unveiled at a news conference today (Aug. 31) on the WSU campus.
The Camarenas chose the name Shocker Adelante Scholars to describe recipients of their scholarship program. Adelante means “to move forward” or “to get ahead” in Spanish. In addition to scholarships, the couple’s gift will:
- Provide mentoring and tutoring services to help scholarship recipients succeed.
- Support recipients who have an entrepreneurial interest by underwriting their participation in Wichita State’s new Microenterprises Program.
- Create a Visiting Professor program to augment the university’s efforts to recruit a more diverse faculty.
- Hire a full-time diversity recruiter in the Admissions Department to boost enrollment of students of color.
Based on their own experiences as college students from diverse backgrounds, the Camarenas said they recognize the financial and cultural barriers students of color can encounter.
“We also understand the lifelong positive impact a college education can have on each student as well as their extended families,” said Yolanda Camarena, a Wichita State graduate. “Our goal is to provide students of color a level pathway to a college degree and the ability to participate equally in all the opportunities our country has to offer.”
She added: “We firmly believe that a more diverse and inclusive environment at Wichita
State will be beneficial to all students as they learn, live and work together on
a campus that mirrors the workplaces
and communities that they will become a part of. Our hope is that their college experience will be one of both learning and understanding. Learning those skills needed to continue their chosen field of work and understanding that the diversity of cultures, ethnicity, language and experiences will be of great benefit as they become an integral part of a country that grows more diverse every day.”
The Camarenas met with Wichita State President Jay Golden, Provost Rick Muma and WSU Foundation President Elizabeth King to discuss the university’s goals to strengthen diversity and inclusion.
“I appreciate the strong endorsement of Gene and Yolanda Camarena of our vision to make the college experience more affordable and inclusive for all students,” Golden said. “Their generous gift in money, time and ideas exemplifies the strong partnership our university continues to have with our diverse community and our state.”
King remarked: “In addition to their extraordinary financial gift, Gene and Yolanda Camarena are eager to share their wisdom and experience as we prepare these deserving students for rewarding careers and service to our community. Wichita State is truly grateful for their vision and collaboration.”
Yolanda Camarena is a graduate of Wichita State and completed a Master’s in Public Policy and Education at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Gene Camarena is a graduate of the University of Kansas and completed a Master’s in Business Administration at the Harvard University School of Business.