Committed to Public Service

Yethzéll Díaz wins inaugural award named in honor of UC Santa Cruz alumnus, slain congressional aide

February 24, 2011

Yethzéll Díaz, a senior majoring in Latin American and Latino studies and sociology, is helping bring computer literacy to Spanish speaking parents in Watsonville.

Yethzéll Díaz, a senior majoring in Latin American and Latino studies and sociology, is the recipient of the first Gabriel Zimmerman Memorial Scholarship at UC Santa Cruz.

The $2,500 award was established to support undergraduate students in the Division of Social Sciences who are passionate about social issues and committed to public service. It honors Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman (Stevenson, '02, sociology) who was killed in the January 2011 shooting spree in Tucson that wounded his boss, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Díaz grew up in Bakersfield, the daughter of Latin American immigrants. After high school, she lived in Paraguay for seven months doing human rights work with Amnesty International before attending community college in Los Angeles. She transferred to UC Santa Cruz in fall 2010.

Since then she has worked with other undergraduates in UCSC's Global Information Internship Program (GIIP) to create and implement a program in Watsonville schools to increase computer literacy among Spanish-speaking parents. She has also worked with other students to start “Strive for College,” a program that will help prepare students from underserved and disadvantaged communities to successfully transition from high school to college.

"At a time when most prestigious universities are underscoring the importance of public service for their undergraduate students, UCSC has decided to honor someone who has already deeply engaged in community action," said Social Sciences Division Dean Sheldon Kamieniecki. "UCSC has many students who, just like Gabe Zimmerman, are very much involved in helping average citizens improve their quality of life."

The scholarship fund was the brainchild of two UCSC alums Alex Clemens (Porter, '89, international politics) and Jonathan Klein (Merrill, '89, politics) after they learned of Zimmerman's death. Neither Clemens nor Klein knew Zimmerman personally but said they were touched by his dedication to public service and that he was killed in the course of doing his job. Zimmerman served as Giffords' community outreach director and had organized the "congresswoman on the corner" event in Tucson where the shooting occurred.

More than 500 alumni, community members, and the general public contributed to fund an endowment that provides for the annual scholarship.

Klein, Clemens, and professors Eva Bertram, politics, Mary Beth Pudup, community studies, and Craig Reinarman, sociology, served on the scholarship selection committee.

"I am thrilled about Yethzéll's selection as the very first recipient of the Gabriel Zimmerman Scholarship," Klein said. "I never met Gabe Zimmerman, but was so moved by his remarkable public service, and his tireless advocacy of social justice. There was no question that starting a scholarship in his name at UCSC was the very least we could do to carry on his efforts."

Committee chair Reinarman said Díaz's “work on bringing computer literacy to Latino parents and on the "Strive for College" program clearly indicated to the committee her commitment to the sort of efforts to which Gabe Zimmerman devoted his life."

The scholarship is scheduled to be formally presented April 27 at an event held in conjunction with Reunion Weekend. This is the 10th anniversary of Zimmerman's graduating class. His family and many of his classmates are expected to attend.