Marisa Becerra vividly remembers the day she received her acceptance letter from the Fresno State Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

“I was in tears,” Becerra said. “I applied to physical therapy programs everywhere and was hoping just to get in somewhere, but Fresno State was really my top choice. When I visited the campus in 2018, I just fell in love with the facilities. So getting accepted here was more than anything I could ask for.”

For the Merced native, the opportunity to pursue higher education so close to home was the icing on the cake. A single mom to son, Evan, 11, Becerra relies on the support of her family to get through the rigorous three-year program. In fact, it was the love she had for her son and the motivation from her sister, who returned to school later in life to earn her Ph.D. in psychology, that jump started Becerra’s own dream of earning a doctorate. 

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After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in exercise science at Chico State in 2000, Becerra worked briefly in sales, but knew that wasn’t the path for her. During her time at Chico State, she had the opportunity to work with children who needed adaptive physical education. She found the work emotional and inspiring, and it later served as the catalyst to her goals of becoming a physical therapist – but it was her time as a physical therapy aide at Rascal Creek Physical Therapy in Merced that really set her plan in motion.

“That is where my love for the profession was really nurtured,” Becerra said. “I loved the patient-client relationship. It was then and there that I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

Twenty years later and now in her forties, Becerra is moving full speed ahead in pursuing her passion. She is now in her third-year of the Doctor of Physical program, and is set to graduate this coming May. Considered a new traditional student, Becerra spends her weekdays in Fresno and commutes on the weekends to her parents home in Merced, where her son resides. 

Although she has the love and support of her family, Becerra said receiving the Robert and Jessica Bacci Physical Therapy Scholarship provided her the stability needed to get through the program. Through the scholarship, she was granted $2,000 and for Becerra, it couldn’t have come at a better time. 

“I was getting ready to start my summer rotation, which comes with a pretty high fee and at the time, I hadn’t received my financial aid yet,” Becerra said. “So I was a bit worried about where I was going to obtain the funding for it, but then I received the scholarship and in that moment, all of the anxiety was taken away from me. I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I no longer had to worry about where the money was going to come from.”

Becerra said the challenging nature of the doctoral program makes it difficult for her to work, so the scholarship also helped to ease some of that burden. However, most importantly, it allows her more time to see her son – something she deeply values.

“When I do have extra time, it goes to my son because I sacrifice not seeing him during the week,” Becerra said. “The thought of having to work on the weekends and not see him was devastating.”

Giving back is nothing new for Dr. Robert Bacci, a 1974 alumnus of the Fresno State physical therapy program. He currently runs his own practice in Visalia – Bacci & Glinn Physical Therapy – and for over 30 years, has provided countless clinical education opportunities for Fresno State physical therapy students. 

As a certified clinical instructor, Bacci has mentored up-and-coming clinicians and provided hands-on, interactive learning opportunities for hundreds of Fresno State physical therapy students, like Becerra. 

Prior to the Bacci’s scholarship, Becerra had never received a scholarship, simply because she was not aware of the opportunities out there. She said she has been blessed by receiving it and wants other students to know they, too, can receive financial assistance. 

“I can’t even tell you how special and meaningful it was to receive this scholarship,” said Becerra. “It really shows that people care. It shows how much the community gives back. Now I’m constantly telling my classmates to apply because it’s real and it’s possible. You just have to try.”


Fresno State’s annual Day of Giving is November 17. Each gift, no matter the amount, will support CHHS students. To donate directly to the scholarship fund, please visit bit.ly/chhsDOG20 for details.