CSU Channel Islands nursing student Ma Theresa Quisao. (Courtesy photo)

While growing up in the Philippines, CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) nursing student Ma Theresa Quisao rarely had money for food.

“The only money I had was to pay ‘jeepney’ drivers to get to school,” Quisao said. “At school some of my friends were nice and would help me with a sandwich.”

Years later and half a world away, Quisao’s dedication to education has earned her a 2018 CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement.

“It made me teary-eyed,” Quisao said. “Just to be able to attend nursing school made me teary-eyed.”

Each year, 23 students (one from each campus of the California State University system) are chosen for the university’s highest recognition of student achievement.

Quisao represented CSUCI when she and the other scholars accepted their awards Sept. 11 at a public ceremony during the CSU Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach.

The Trustees’ Award comes with a donor-funded scholarship ranging from $6,000-$12,000. Quisao’s scholarship comes from a donation from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

“These student scholars embody the leadership, diversity and academic excellence the California State University is known for,” said CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White.

“They have traced unique paths to their goal of a higher education and serve as powerful examples to their families, communities and California,” he said.

“The awards will give these high-achieving and deserving students even more opportunities to attain their academic and career goals,” he said.

Setting an example for her nieces and nephews is exactly what Quisao wants to do. She wants them to know that even though they grew up in near-poverty, they, too, can attend college and pursue the career they’ve always wanted.

For Quisao, it was always nursing: “I liked to play with dolls and fix them. I liked to babysit and care for people.”

Trustees’ scholarship winners are chosen based on their superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service and financial need.

Quisao grew up in a crowded home in the Philippines until she was able to immigrate to San Francisco when she was 19. There, she lived with her father, mother, brother, sister and niece in a small apartment.

“All my stuff was inside a box because there wasn’t enough room for cabinets,” she said.

At first, Quisao said, she was overwhelmed by culture shock as everything moved so fast in America, but she made friends, adjusted to her new life and made plans for college.

While visiting a friend in Santa Barbara, she fell in love with the city and with the help of another friend, she was able to find work and save for college.

Eventually Quisao entered Santa Barbara City College, but she struggled, working 12 hours a day and going to school.

She eventually wound up on academic probation, feeling lost until she took a class specifically for those who were unfamiliar with navigating higher education.

Her hard work paid off. She made the President’s Honor Roll at SBCC, where she eventually became a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

Quisao is now in her third year in CSUCI’s Nursing Program at the Extended University campus in Goleta.

She was inducted into the Gamma Beta Phi and Mortar Board senior honor societies and volunteers in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital.

After she graduates in 2019, Quisao, now 35, plans to work as a NICU nurse, pursue a master’s degree, and become a clinical instructor or professor in a mother-infant program.

“I want other students to know that even if one is on academic probation, it’s not too late to succeed as long as we persevere and work hard,” she said.

“Following your dreams is not always easy because life will throw things at us, but we need to hang on and keep fighting,” she said.

— Kim Gregory for CSU Channel Islands.