Nov 16, 2021 1:59 pm

Although Giovanna Sanabia was on the brink of homelessness when she began her journey at Pierce College, she was determined to do everything in her power to achieve her dream of earning a college degree. Giovanna’s grandmother used her last paycheck to send her family from Panama to the United States for a better life, and she was determined to make this sacrifice count. “I felt like it was my duty to make her dreams come true by earning a college degree,” she said.

At 24 years old, Giovanna took a leap of faith and filled out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and applied to Pierce College. She could not have been happier to receive the financial aid support that would allow her to attend college. But without access to transportation, she struggled to find a way to get to campus every day. Giovanna spent about two weeks walking through nearby parking lots to collect enough money for bus fare to come to campus.

“As soon as I arrived on campus for the first time, I went to talk to Financial Aid to let them know about my situation. They immediately helped me get on track to start school only a few days later,” she said, adding that she was given free bus pass, as well. “At first, I was afraid that I wouldn’t belong in the classroom, that I was too old, or that I wouldn’t fit in. But being at Pierce College made me feel like there’s a place for everyone. There’s a club or a program available for anyone to find their place and be around other like-minded individuals.”

Giovanna took full advantage of the support services offered to students. When she realized she lacked school supplies she needed to be successful in her classes, she visited the Tutoring Center to see if they could help. “They gave me some free starter supplies and let me know about programs like TRIO and Aspire,” she said. “They even introduced me to [Aspire Retention Manager] Aki Smith and [TRIO Faculty Counselor Advisor] Terry Green, who both helped me join the programs. I am so thankful for Pierce College’s support all along the way, from the beginning to the very end when I graduated.” Please see the sidebar for more information about our TRIO and Aspire programs.

Throughout her time at Pierce College, Giovanna experienced health issues that almost forced her to drop out of school to focus on her recovery. “At one point, I was hospitalized and afraid I would miss my final exams, but my professors were amazing,” Giovanna said. “They gave me an extension on my finals and even let me borrow a portable Wi-Fi hotspot while I was in the hospital so I could still finish my classes. Having that support during my darkest times, and seeing that solutions were available no matter what I was going through – it was really inspirational to me.”

Thanks to the support she received along the way, Giovanna was able to focus on her studies despite the obstacles she faced, and even became a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. “I’m so proud that I was able to maintain good grades through everything I went through,” she said. “My time at Pierce helped me realize I can do so much more in spite of any obstacles I face.”

Giovanna graduated from Pierce last spring and hopes to attend her dream school next: Columbia University, where she plans to double major in sociology and psychology, with a minor in biochemistry.

“I’ve struggled with thinking I don’t belong, or don’t deserve my success because I come from poverty and a third-world country,” she admitted. “Now, I truly believe that everybody deserves anything they can dream of and work for. It’s never too late to go to college and dream a new dream.”

To learn more about Giovanna and her journey at Pierce College, watch her student spotlight video on YouTube.