Portrait of Angelina Zuniga Kramer, on the University Library portico in front of the library lawn.
Angelina Zuniga Kramer. (David J. Hawkins / CSUN)

As a high schooler, Angelina Zuniga Kramer accompanied her stepfather to construction sites where he worked, and it inspired her to dream big.

She saw how small companies could contribute to huge public-works projects, such as highways and bridges, and she decided: She wanted to be a civil engineer. She learned that women are still underrepresented in the field, but she knew she was capable. 

Her family’s financial struggles had made it difficult to settle in one place, and Zuniga Kramer’s grades had suffered, she said. Before starting her junior year at Edward R. Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles, she dedicated herself to boosting her grades, taking online and weekend classes.

In 2023, she was accepted to CSUN and its Educational Opportunity Program, and she enrolled for the fall semester. A first-generation college student, Zuniga Kramer applied for a scholarship from the CREA Foundation, which aims to support students who reside in affordable housing communities for families with low incomes. 

“I knew I had potential in me,” the freshman reflected recently. “I explained to [the scholarship committee] that going to college is the biggest opportunity because I’m the first ever in my family to go to college, or to even finish my high school credits. So, I saw it as an opportunity where I just don’t want to go to college, but I want to finish college.”

The scholarship already has made a huge difference in stabilizing her living situation and her academic life. It helped cover the cost of her dorm room at CSUN. She used to do her homework on her phone, and the glitchy formatting on documents could cost her points on her grades, she said. But with the scholarship funds, she was able to purchase an iPad.

Zuniga Kramer was one of 20 freshmen in fall 2023 selected for CSUN’s first cohort of CREA Scholars, established through a $260,000 contribution from the CREA Foundation. Matching funds from the CSUN Foundation through its recent Matador Match Challenge initiative doubled the number of available scholarships for fall 2023. 

The CREA Foundation is an extension of the Indianapolis-based CREA, LLC, which finances the development of affordable-housing communities for families across the nation. California represents the second-largest concentration of CREA communities in the United States.

We’re not only helping them immediately and helping them as individual students, but we’re also helping their families for generations to come.”

Arvetta Jideonwo, CREA Foundation Executive Director

CSUN is just the second university in the nation with a CREA Scholars Program, following the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis program established in fall 2022. CREA Foundation chose CSUN for its proximity to CREA communities and its longstanding success in supporting students who face socioeconomic barriers — so they can persist and graduate.

The CREA Foundation scholarship at CSUN is renewable and provides, on average, $5,000 annually. The scholarship is available to students who qualified for one of three CSUN programs that expand access to historically low-income, educationally disadvantaged, first-generation students, helping them enter college and thrive: the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), EOP’s Milt & Debbie Valera Resilient Scholars Program, and the EOP/TRIO Student Services Support Program.

These programs provide comprehensive services that assist students throughout their college journey, including academic and emotional support, financial literacy and career assistance.

“The CREA Scholars Program is an amazing opportunity for students,” said Shiva Parsa, CSUN’s EOP director. “CREA did a great job communicating to the students that not only do they have EOP behind them, they have CREA behind them as well.”

The scholarship already has helped freshman Lucio Aranda prioritize his studies. He came to CSUN to study psychology, and he wants to provide a safe space for therapy for people with similar backgrounds to his, Aranda said.

Before receiving the CREA Scholarship, Aranda had worried about his family’s financial situation, he said. When he started at CSUN, he was living in East Los Angeles, commuting on public transportation two hours each way. The scholarship allowed him to move to an apartment near campus, freeing up time to study.

“It definitely made a big difference,” he said. 

CREA Foundation Executive Director Arvetta Jideonwo said the program is designed to disrupt cycles of poverty by providing access to education opportunities.

“All these students have ambitions, they have things they want to do in life,” Jideonwo said. “We’re not only helping them immediately and helping them as individual students, but we’re also helping their families for generations to come.”

CREA also boasts some proud Matador connections — CREA, LLC’s co-president, Charles Anderson, and its account manager vice president, Asia Williams, are CSUN alumni. Anderson grew up in affordable housing, and CSUN’s business program was the catalyst for his career, he said.

“CSUN has a special place in my heart,” Anderson said. “Everybody needs opportunity in order to succeed, and our goal and sincere desire is for each of the CREA Scholars to grasp this opportunity and make the most of it.”

This article originally appeared in CSUN Magazine, Spring 2024.

Learn more about CREA.


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