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Passion, advocacy drive graduate student to Kresge Foundation fellowship


When Rosario Torres looked at her high school graduating class eight years ago, she realized only a quarter of her classmates from freshman year were receiving diplomas. Of those Lakewood, California graduates, about a third continued to higher education.

Torres, now 27, said witnessing the disparity in access to education drove her passion to help underrepresented populations attain higher education. A first-generation college student herself, Torres said she’s committed to helping others achieve their educational goals. To enhance her skills, Torres joined The Kresge Foundation’s Education Program as a graduate student fellow on June 12.

Rosario Torres, education fellow, The Kresge Foundation

Rosario Torres is on a 10-week fellowship at The Kresge Foundation for the Education Program. 

During the 10-week fellowship, Torres will provide project management support for media project proposals, meet with current and potential grantees and highlight foundation partners on a national level. Rebecca Villarreal, a program officer on the education team, said Torres’ prior experience and passion made her a viable candidate for the position.

“Rosie’s interests align with a number of our strategic priorities, such as College Promise programs, building the capacity of minority serving institutions, and urban higher education systems, particularly in regards to financial aid, food security and student homelessness.

Torres also hails from a predominantly Mexican, working-class neighborhood in California, a focus state for the education team. The state has the largest number of Latino students in community college in the nation. The education fellow said there are numerous barriers blocking students of color from continuing their education after high school. She remembers few advanced-placement classes being offered in her high school and said culturally, the thought of going more than 30 miles away for school is simply unheard of.

It was her father, whose educational background only reached the third grade, who supported Torres’ educational dreams, despite the many obstacles – including college affordability.

“How will low-income students pay for their studies?” Torres said. “How do we ensure universities are supporting those students well?”

Torres previously worked in admissions and the financial aid department at Marymount California University and taught high school English through the federally funded Upward Bound program. She first heard of the foundation through her work at the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good, a Kresge grantee in Michigan. Torres’ mentors and supervisors strongly supported the opportunity with the foundation.

After speaking with education team members during an interview earlier this year, Torres yearned to work with a group that was committed to an equitable purpose. 

“What drove me to work here is they are really connected to social justice issues,” Torres said. “And I really connect with the mission as an individual, a student and a social justice advocate for first-generation and low-income students.”