Dr. Michael Horowitz & Dr. Jeannie Gutierrez Scholarship Program Champions First-Generation Students


Every college student’s educational journey is unique, shaped by a complex web of challenges and motivations, both internal and external. For learners who are the first in their families to pursue a degree, the path can be especially complicated. Since 2013, TCS Education System President Michael Horowitz, Ph.D., and his wife, Jeannie Gutierrez, Ph.D., both clinical psychologists, have supported the success of first-generation students within TCS by awarding annual financial grants under the Dr. Michael Horowitz & Dr. Jeannie Gutierrez Immigrant / First Generation Scholarship program.


Both first-generation college students themselves, Dr. Horowitz and Dr. Gutierrez are keenly aware of the transformative power of higher education. “Education has profoundly changed each of our lives and our ability to contribute to society and have meaningful professions,” Dr. Horowitz explains. Recognizing the breadth and diversity of experience among those who share the “first-generation” label, the scholarship is open to students whose parents have not received college degrees (in the case of undergraduate study), or advanced degrees (in the case of graduate programs). Immigrants who are the first in their family to pursue higher education in the United States are also eligible to apply.


In addition to academic standing, scholarship applicants are assessed on the basis of prior community involvement and intent to prioritize community impact during their education and beyond. For Duyen “Lulu” Tran, who earned her JD from The Colleges of Law (a community within TCS Education System) in December 2020 with the help of the scholarship program, community impact means keeping her eyes on the long-held goal of working in the field of human rights, providing legal support to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.


Tran immigrated to California from Vietnam with her family at the age of 10. She credits her parents, whose education ended after middle school, with instilling in her a tremendous work ethic. The commitment to channel that hard work into academic goals, however, was a value Tran came to on her own.


“My parents are such hard workers,” she explains. “Living in a country where they didn’t even understand the language, they had to find jobs and provide for me and my siblings, and I deeply respect them for doing all that.” But because their own upbringings had been so different, Tran’s parents didn’t necessarily raise her to see academic achievement and higher education as top priorities. Instead, she explains, her early motivation to excel in school came from… pizza.


“In elementary and middle school, the teachers would go around saying, ‘If you get all A’s, you’ll win a medal and a pizza party for the class,’” Tran recalls. “I really wanted that medal. I wanted to stand up there during that award ceremony, and I wanted that pizza party.” While Tran’s sources of motivation have evolved over time, her drive and independence have remained steadfast, enabling her to navigate undergraduate and pre-professional study with a healthy balance of curiosity, practicality and perseverance.


According to Dr. Jack Paduntin, president of Pacific Oaks College & Children’s School (another community within TCS), supporting first-generation students benefits not only the scholars themselves, but the academic community as a whole.


“At Pacific Oaks we embrace the values of diversity and inclusion, and our first generation and immigrant students bring such unique perspectives and experiences into the classroom,” Dr. Paduntin explains. “Scholarships like the ones provided by Dr. Horowitz and Dr. Gutierrez create more opportunities to hear and learn from these perspectives and allow recipients and our community at large to flourish.”


To date, the scholarship program has awarded more than $130,000 to students across TCS communities, helping to launch careers in fields as diverse as government, nursing, law, and finance. In reflecting on these students, Dr. Horowitz is quick to emphasize that merely embarking on the journey — let alone ultimately earning a degree — is a remarkable feat for many first-generation scholars.


“I’m continually inspired by the stories of the students who apply for this scholarship, and their dedication to pursuing higher education,” Horowitz says. “They have already chosen to make the commitment, and our scholarship simply provides them with the lift and support they need to reach the finish line.”