Layla Siferllah-Griffin knows that someday she wants to open her own business. Full of ideas and perseverance, she has the dream and drive, but finding a path to achieve that reality has not always been so clear. As she prepares to graduate with an associate degree from Dougherty Family College at the University of St. Thomas this spring, a path is coming into focus.
“For many people in my family, college isn’t a route that has been afforded to everyone,” Siferllah-Griffin said. “This experience has opened new doors to further my career, which means a lot to me.”
Ever since she was a young girl, friends and family have noticed Siferllah-Griffin’s natural knack for persuasion and leadership. After serving as a math tutor and mentor to first-year students, the staff at DFC took notice as well.
Siferllah-Griffin is one of 13 outstanding scholars from Dougherty Family College selected this spring as recipients of the Continuing Excellence Scholarship. The scholarships, made possible through the generous donations of the Marty Ryan and Richard Sterbenz Estate and Dr. Gene and Mary Frey, will fully fund the students’ tuition toward four-year degrees at St. Thomas.
With her associate degree in hand, Siferllah-Griffin plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing at the Opus College of Business.
“I’m most excited about the unknown – about not knowing where my career is going to go. But to know it can go somewhere,” Siferllah-Griffin said. “I feel extremely blessed that someone would invest in my career this way.”
The Continuing Excellence Scholarships help DFC continue to make good on its mission-driven promise to remove financial and systemic barriers to earning a college degree. For awardee Kayla Martin, it will allow her to pursue a degree in entrepreneurship, without the stress of accumulating student loan debt.
“Receiving the Excellence Scholarship means I can focus on my academics and still have a balanced life,” Martin said. “This also allows me to take on more leadership roles within St. Thomas so that I can continue to serve and be present with my community.”
Martin has already made an impact as a leader at DFC, serving as a peer mentor, summer enrichment orientation leader and DFC representative to HOLA! She hopes to grow that commitment to community at St. Thomas.
“DFC has prepared me to attend the St. Thomas four-year program by providing immense support and rigorous expectations,” Martin said. “My perseverance to get through anything mixed with my passion to live, learn and grow has enabled me to reach for the stars.”
For many students the biggest barrier to starting and finishing college is cost. Removing that barrier will allow these 13 scholars to continue their collegiate journey within a community of Tommie support. For fellow Excellence Scholarship recipient Sirichai Thao, that means the relationships he’s cultivated with friends, faculty and staff at DFC, even the campus public safety officers, will continue to grow for years to come.
“We have the ability to help others, and sometimes we can also help ourselves,” Thao said. “But what’s more important is what we can achieve when we build those relationships and come together and work as a team.”
Thao is interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in data analytics or communications, but he’s still figuring out an exact plan. No matter what he settles on, he knows receiving this scholarship has given him the gift of exploration.
“The scholarship means that I have unlocked a door of opportunity to not only explore but also find my passion,” Thao said.
A summer enrichment leader and student mentor at DFC, Thao aims to get involved with the Diversity Activities Board at St. Thomas.
“If I can help someone on their own journey, whether it be big or small, that is what will bring me joy,” Thao said. “If I can make an impact, even if for just a few seconds, that will be worth it.”
Continuing Excellence Scholarship recipients for 2022 are: Koko Agbobly, Marielena Chacon-Pacheco, Juan Del Valle López, Jalyn Hall, Jada Lara-Madrigal, Kayla Martin, Olga Morales Artola, Kazoua Moua, Kelly-Jovian Ngwa, Alejandra Soria, Layla Siferllah-Griffin, Victoria Tapia and Sirichai Thao.
To be awarded the Continuing Excellence Scholarship, each scholar achieved a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5 and had outstanding essays and faculty and staff mentor recommendations.