January 18, 2022  

PepsiCo Community College Program opens doors for Black and Hispanic students

Applications for 2022 S.M.I.L.E. scholarships are now open, part of The PepsiCo Foundation’s initiative to help students like Valentina Torres continue their education.

Valentina Torres has ambitions to create artificial limbs for those who have lost theirs due to injury. It’s a career aspiration she’s been working toward since she volunteered at a local hospital while in high school. The Bogotá, Colombia native knew earning a bachelor’s degree was a key step to achieving that goal.

But after earning her associate degree from Dallas College last year, Valentina reached an impasse. The prospect of transferring to a four-year university seemed financially unattainable. “My family and I didn’t have the capability to pay more tuition,” she explains.

The PepsiCo Foundation’s Community College Program helped to change that. The $40 million scholarship and professional mentoring initiative was launched last March with the goal of supporting 4,000 Black and Hispanic aspiring and graduating community college students over the next five years. 

In April, Valentina became one of the first 25 recipients of the program’s S.M.I.L.E. (Success Matters in Life & Education) scholarship, granted to students who have completed their associate degree at eligible community colleges and are looking to transfer to a four-year school to earn their bachelor’s degree. “My scholarship changed my life completely,” she says.

Applications for 2022 S.M.I.L.E. scholarships are open until Feb. 28 to eligible students attending City Colleges of Chicago, Dallas College and Westchester Community College. The scholarship provides $25,000 per year in tuition for two years (a total of $50,000) at a four-year school and professional mentoring from a PepsiCo associate. The Community College Program also offers Uplift scholarships, which provides financial support for students seeking two-year associate degrees at 20 community colleges across the U.S. 

“We’re proud of the achievements of our inaugural S.M.I.L.E. Scholars and excited to re-up this program for a second year and expand our support to more brilliant minds,” says C.D. Glin, Global Head of Philanthropy, PepsiCo & Vice President, The PepsiCo Foundation. “While two-year programs can be an on-ramp to higher education, financial barriers and historic inequity have made it difficult for many students of color to take the next step in their educational journey — transitioning to four-year universities.”

My scholarship changed my life completely.

There is a growing need for support. In 2021, the five-year graduation rates of Black and Hispanic students in bachelor’s programs were 40.5% and 41.5%, respectively, compared to 62.2% for white students. The PepsiCo Foundation aims to help close that gap.

“To see that a huge company is supporting me and is invested in my success is such a blessing,” Valentina says. The scholarship allowed her to transfer to the University of Texas at Arlington, where she recently completed her first semester toward a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. She was also connected with a PepsiCo mentor who she can go to for advice on course selection, networking on campus and her future career. “We come from the same background, and he was once in the same boat I am right now,” Valentina says of her mentor. “He’s been giving me great tips for how I can grow, not only academically but personally, too.”

Valentina hopes her time at the University of Texas at Arlington is the next step toward a master’s degree in biomedical engineering that could turn her goal of making prosthetic limbs into reality. Earning the S.M.I.L.E. scholarship helped keep her on that path.

“I feel like my skills and abilities are growing thanks to this program,” Valentina says. “With the support of PepsiCo, I feel like I can succeed in the world.”