Magazine Fall 2023 PEAC Gives Local Scholars Access to Westmont

by Connie Gundry Tappy ’80


A new partnership with the Santa Barbara school district helped eight local first-year students enroll at Westmont this fall. These participants in the district’s Program for Effective Access to College (PEAC) received four-year scholarships, and several qualified to compete for Augustinian scholarships, worth 85 percent of tuition.

Dacia Romero Acosta ’27 became the first PEAC student to earn this prestigious award. "I’m a first-generation student, and finding resources and support isn’t easy," she says. "You strive to succeed in school and overcome any obstacle in your way. I can’t thank PEAC enough for all the love and generous support I’ve received: tutoring services, scholarship information and anything else I needed help with. I’m now chasing my dreams at a four-year college. In the future, I hope to help other students like PEAC helped me."

Westmont’s partnership with PEAC began in 2022, with the Santa Barbara Education Foundation administering the scholarship funds. PEAC provides academic, social and emotional support to prepare high school students for the rigors of college-level work. It seeks to close the achievement gap and change the trajectory of low-income, historically underrepresented and often first-generation college-bound students. While high achieving, they face serious cultural and economic barriers to attending college. PEAC requires them to maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA in high school, take honors and advanced placement (AP) classes and pass AP tests for college credit. The program focuses on helping students get into a college or university. Even their parents participate in an education program through the Parent Institute for Quality Education to enhance their ability to help their children graduate.

Education [is] the most powerful and transformative tool that helps shape the future and change the lives of communities.

"Nelson Mandela spoke of education as the most powerful and transformative tool that helps shape the future and change the lives of communities," says Irene Neller, vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications. "Higher education gives students the knowledge and life skills to become better people, which creates a better society. But we know that for many local families, affording a college degree can seem daunting. Westmont’s partnership with PEAC addresses affordability and creates opportunity so we can inspire students to dream big."

Araceli Lopez Espinoza ’22, assistant director of admissions, guest and community relations, co-leads the Westmont-PEAC partnership. "Our commitment to community outreach has established a relationship with PEAC that extends career pathways for students," she says. "This partnership is serving our local students and their families as we aim to shape future leaders in our community. It promises endless success stories for years to come."

emerging hispanic serving institution

Other first-year PEAC scholarship recipients share this bright perspective. "PEAC has helped me succeed academically, financially and socially," says pre-med student Natty Valdovinos ’27. "I will forever be grateful for the PEAC foundation’s financial support so I can accomplish my goals," says Daisy Perez Villafana ’27, a pre-nursing major. "It has motivated me even more to continue my education."

Other PEAC students in the class of 2027 include Jose Escobar, Adrian Leon, Haidi Lopez Jimenez, Jessica Melero, Leslie Mora Tapia, Rebeca Perez Sanchez, Mia Ruvalcaba Rubio and Andres Arroyo. Jacqueline Hernandez is the first PEAC student enrolled in the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.