Ten years ago, I finished my undergraduate studies in international relations in my home country, Mexico. I wanted to attend the London School of Economics and Political Science for my master’s but as a first-generation university student coming from a small town in rural Mexico, getting accepted into one of the world’s most renowned universities seemed like an unattainable dream.
Despite having low hopes, I decided to apply for the master’s programme in comparative politics. I put a lot of effort into my application and I was thrilled to find out, a few months later, that I had been accepted on to my dream programme.
Although I was excited for this incredible opportunity, neither I nor my family could afford to pay my full tuition and cover my expenses in a city as expensive as London.
While searching for funding opportunities, I came across the recently established Santander Universities scholarship programme. The scholarship was not only based on merit but also took into account financial need. I applied and could not believe it when I was awarded one of the Santander scholarships for that year.
Thanks to this scholarship, I was able to concentrate fully on my academic studies and my education did not put a financial burden on my family. My experience at LSE opened many doors and gave me the opportunity to meet incredible people from different backgrounds and cultures. Living in a city as vibrant and cosmopolitan as London has remained one of the best experiences of my life.
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A few months after graduating in 2008, I passed a highly competitive examination to join the Mexican Diplomatic Service. I have served both at home and abroad as a career diplomat since 2009. My most recent posting was as head of the public affairs and cooperation sections at the Consulate General of Mexico in São Paulo, Brazil.
One of my main responsibilities was to oversee the implementation of a scholarship programme for university students as well as an initiative that provided incentives for low-income public school students to improve their academic performance. This was the most rewarding experience of my career, because the stories of those students and the challenges they faced mirrored my own.
I have been on a leave of absence from the Mexican Diplomatic Service for the past two years. In 2015, the Mexican government awarded me a full civil servant’s scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in international development at Yale University in the US. I graduated this past May and I am now doing consultancy work in Washington DC before resuming my diplomatic career.
The Santander scholarship helped me achieve my dreams. Throughout my career, I have met brilliant students with the potential to succeed at world-class institutions, and scholarships are key to helping more students achieve this.
I hope that my experience can serve as an example of the importance of sponsoring students who do not have the financial resources to study abroad.
This is an edited version of a speech delivered by Maria Rodriguez Dominguez at the 10th anniversary of the Santander Universities programme in the UK on 5 October 2017.
To mark the 10 year anniversary of the Santander Universities programme, the bank has launched new initiatives for 2017-18
Student Impact Fund
The £100,000 Student Impact Fund will be launched on crowdfunder.co.uk and aims to address the challenges, issues and priorities of students or student groups across the UK. For students who raise half of the cost of their priority project, the fund may contribute the other half, up to £2,000.
SME Internship Programme
Internships will be provided for students to gain experience in the SME sector for the academic year 2017-18. The scheme, introduced in 2012, helps to improve the employability of young people and provides local businesses with access to young talent, investing in local communities and the local economy. Many of these internships have led to secure employment.
2018 Entrepreneurship Awards
Another £250,000 will be committed towards delivering The Entrepreneurship Awards project for 2018. The awards support and encourage university students and recent graduates to pursue their business ideas through a national pitching competition to identify the best businesses from Santander Universities’ 83 partner universities. Prizes include funding, support and mentoring.
Read more: University scholarship news and launches