For Coleman Garner, finding himself unexpectedly unemployed in the pandemic turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
The 29-year-old Westside resident had graduated in 2015 with a degree in marine biology from the University of Oregon, but he’d been working in customer service since. He wasn’t learning new things anymore. He wasn’t challenging himself. In his own words, he’d grown stagnant. “I was considering [going back to school] before, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit and I lost both my jobs that I had the time to seriously consider applying and taking the classes I needed to get into nursing school,” Garner said.
At first, it looked like he might not get into the Cabrillo College Nursing Program, which uses an admissions lottery. Acceptances went out in November 2021, and Garner’s name wasn’t among them.
He was an alternate, which meant that others in the popular program would have to pull out for him to get a spot. The New Year came and went, then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and then Valentine’s Day.
I chose nursing because I wanted to help people in a more meaningful and fulfilling way, and I thought health care would be a way to do that.
— Coleman Garner, Nursing Student at Cabrillo College
Finally, he got word that he’d been accepted. He was thrilled.
“I chose nursing because I wanted to help people in a more meaningful and fulfilling way, and I thought health care would be a way to do that. Every interaction I’ve had with nurses has always been so positive. I love—just—the friendliness, and how they’re trying to connect and relate to you but also to be professional and help with your ailment. I think to do that for people would feel really good.”
Then came even more good news: Garner was selected for a $1,500 Education Scholarship from Bay Federal Credit Union. Bay Federal is a not-for-profit financial cooperative with the mission of making a real difference in the financial lives of its members and the community. Garner had been a member since he attended Santa Cruz High School, where he graduated in 2011.
Aptos resident Carmen Sauceda (UC Santa Cruz) and Salinas resident Juan Padilla (UCLA) were also awarded Education Scholarships. At the same event, Micaela DiPiero (University of Arizona) and Albert Vizcarra (Cabrillo) were named winners of Bay Federal’s Mac McCormac Employee Scholarship. “I think it’s great that Bay Federal offers these opportunities for its community,” Sauceda said. She has student loans, lives at home, and works part-time. “I also have two younger siblings that are going to go to college at some point, and I don’t want to put it all on my dad.”
Carrie Birkhofer, Bay Federal President and CEO, announced Garner’s selection at the credit union’s Annual Meeting in late March.
“I am incredibly pleased to honor these hard-working students. My hope is that each of them will succeed in their educational pursuits and go on to make a real difference in our world.”
— Carrie Birkhofer, President and CEO of Bay Federal Credit Union
Since 2008, Bay Federal has awarded 75 scholarships to local students. Garner says he feels grateful to be one of them. The scholarship money will help lessen some of the financial stress that comes with being a full-time student locally. He recently moved back in with his parents to cut down on expenses so he can fully immerse himself in the Nursing Program, beginning in August. Now free from the student loan debt that he took on while earning his first degree, he intends to apply for more scholarships and grants for his second go-around.
He credits Cabrillo College’s Financial Aid and Scholarships Office with informing him about the Bay Federal scholarship program and encourages others to check in with the department. “Don’t be afraid to call and ask,” he said. “They really want to help the students. Take your time when you’re applying, and be honest.”
As for Bay Federal’s scholarship program, the next application window will open in the late fall. All credit union members, whether they’re attending a university, trade, or technical school, are encouraged to apply.
About Bay Federal Credit Union
Bay Federal Credit Union was started when local school teachers pooled their money together to start a credit union. That investment has grown through an amazing journey of involvement (evolution) into the area’s largest locally-owned financial institution, with over $1.5 billion in assets.
Bay Federal provides full service financial products and solutions to Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito counties. Whether a community member is looking to buy a home, purchase a car, save some money, or access the latest in banking technology, our local and friendly employees are here to help.