A portrait of the late Ana Tapia hangs prominently with other leading alumni at Fowler High School. Her bright smile serves as inspiration for students in the rural town, 20 minutes south of Fresno.
Tapia was 22 years old and in her first semester of the Master of Public Health program at Fresno State when she died in a car accident in November 2014. Her memory lives on through two Fresno State scholarships in her name — one for students from Fowler High, where she was a tutor and Academic Decathlon coach during college, and the other for graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in public health.
Yessenia Lopez, a 2015 graduate of Fowler High, was the first recipient of the Ana G. Tapia Memorial Scholarship. Lopez is grateful for the full, four-year scholarship she received. She recalls a few of the brief times that she was tutored by Tapia and says the legacy Tapia left behind is something she won’t take for granted.
“I’m here because someone else believed in me,” Lopez says. “I don’t want just one degree. I want to be good at multiple things. I feel that ambition in me. With this scholarship, I want to step up and follow in Ana’s footsteps.”
Without the scholarship, which was established in memory of Tapia by donors who wish to remain anonymous, Lopez would not have been able to afford college. Lopez, who has a 4.0 GPA, plans to major in social work and make a career out of helping others, just like those who helped her.
In Los Angeles, Fresno State alumnus Brian Panish is known as a hard-hitting trial attorney, but his soft spot lies with the Central Valley. It’s where he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science (1980) and played defense for the Bulldogs on a football scholarship.
His deep-rooted connection to the Valley inspired him to represent Tapia’s family in a wrongful death case arising from the accident and led his firm, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, to donate $100,000 toward an endowment that will be used to fund the Ana G. Tapia Memorial Graduate Scholarship in Public Health. This scholarship is intended for public health students with a demonstrated interest in Latina health issues — a cause Tapia was passionate about — and will be awarded in fall 2016.
“Ana did so many great things in her short time here on earth,” Panish says. “As a first-generation college student, we want others to be inspired by what she was able to do and to give them the opportunity to carry on the legacy that she started.”