Liberated by philanthropy

By following her dreams to UC Davis, this cancer survivor revamps her life and motivates her children

After a battle with cancer, Gina Salinas ’17 received the Osher Reentry Scholarship, allowing her to fulfill her dream of earning a university education at UC Davis.

By Laura Pizzo


Even the utterance of the word makes a person aware of their mortality.

When she was diagnosed in 2009, Gina Salinas ’17 had already achieved success in the finance industry. Now, as a cancer survivor, she is inspired to live her dreams and, by way of example, encourages her three children to do the same.

Salinas’ dreams led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology and ethnic studies at UC Davis—a decision that became more tangible when she was awarded the Osher Reentry Scholarship, which exists for students who have had at least a five year gap in their education.

“When I went through cancer, that experience solidified for me that I could either keep doing what I don’t love and what doesn’t fulfill me as a person or I could completely change the road I’m on,” Salinas said. “So I decided to change the road. And in doing that, I started to explore what the options were and what matched what makes me happy, and that drove me to UC Davis.” 

Why UC Davis?

After her community college professor and UC Davis alumnus, Jason Newman’93, M.A. ’95, Ph.D. ’04, introduced her to the university, Salinas fell in love with UC Davis for its inclusiveness and principles of community.

“I’ve always had a passion in making society more equal and having the ability to have a voice and to give everybody an opportunity to learn about themselves,” she said. “As I was looking more into this goal, UC Davis stood out to me as an environment that is conducive to that and expresses a want for the students to have a voice and a place where they feel safe and don’t have to fit into a box.”

Salinas noted that the Osher Reentry Scholarship made her feel supported as part of the UC Davis community. “For my career and in my education, I want to reach out to the community and help other people,” she said. “This scholarship showed me I am not alone in that process. As I help other people, people are there to help me.”

After her bachelor’s, Salinas dreams of pursuing a graduate degree and then wants to teach sociology and ethnic studies at a community college. There, she plans to counsel students on how to seek philanthropic and other types of support as they reach for their goals. In that process, Salinas plans to remember the UC Davis community spirit.

“These are not just walls,” she said, pointing to a building on the UC Davis campus. “And this isn’t just cement. This is a community that wants everybody to succeed. That’s a great model. If we can help all of us together, then we win as a society. Philanthropy raises us all as a whole.”

Salinas may not have been able to attain a university education without her scholarship. Although Salinas’ husband works, it would have been very tight financially.

“Sometimes you want to do something and you’re focused on doing it, but that doesn’t mean your personal situation will allow you to do it,” she said. “And when I received this scholarship, it gave me the ability to be able to say ‘yes.’”