Growing up, Diego Giles-Quiroz and Eh Mu shared a similar goal: to play college soccer. Now, the two Twin Cities locals are both midfielders on the Cardinals men’s soccer team.

As first-year students at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, the two are still considering what majors they want to pursue. Mu is considering sports management and marketing, while Giles-Quiroz feels drawn to computer science.

“A number of my teammates study computer science,” Giles-Quiroz said. “I’d talk to them and they’d tell me computer science is more about problem-solving than some of the other sciences, which interested me.”

Both first-generation college students, Mu and Giles-Quiroz shared a concern about the financial ability to attend college.

“At first, I really didn’t look at colleges or apply to colleges,” Mu said.

While Giles-Quiroz’ older siblings who attended college helped him with financial aid paperwork, he was still concerned about the possibility of making college work.

“I wanted to put my brain to work to secure a good future, which to me, requires college,” he said. “I also was looking forward to the college experience, living in the dorms, meeting new people, and playing soccer.”

Concerns about college finances aren’t unique to Giles-Quiroz or Mu. According to a 2022 study from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 38% of college-aged students surveyed cited concerns of finances and debt as the main issues holding them back from attending college.

As a Lasallian Catholic institution, Saint Mary’s has always prioritized making education attainable for students of all income levels. As a part of this goal, the university has supported the Cardinal Promise, a financial aid commitment that has long provided extremely generous financial packages to students of modest means, covering the cost of tuition for “PELL-eligible” students. Saint Mary’s recognized that with institutional dollars, and the generosity of the Minnesota State Grant program, the university could match scholarship programs offered through the state.

With the Cardinal Promise, any Minnesota family with an adjusted gross income of $80,000 or less is eligible to receive a minimum institutional aid package covering the cost of tuition. Wisconsin students are also eligible for the Cardinal Promise but must hold a grade point average of 3.5 or above.

“The Cardinal Promise shows Saint Mary’s commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive educational environment,” said Michael McMahon, vice president of enrollment. “It exemplifies not only our dedication to academic excellence but also our unwavering commitment to our Lasallian Catholic heritage. In the spirit of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, we strive to make a college education accessible to all, ensuring that the transformative power of learning knows no boundaries.”

For Mu, college became more of a reality once he began talking to the Saint Mary’s soccer coach.

“I had never heard of Saint Mary’s until I started talking to the soccer coach,” he said. “Then I learned about the scholarships that were offered and the First Generation Initiative (FGI). And our coach was a big part of that. I could tell he cared about my academic success and he helped encourage me to apply for those scholarships and enroll in the FGI program.”

Giles-Quiroz echoed Mu’s sentiments, saying the opportunities offered by the Cardinal Promise relieved the barriers he felt were in his way of attaining a college degree.

“Coming from a background where my family has struggled with money, it’s comforting knowing I’m not going to be in debt in my future,” he said. “With the Cardinal Promise, I feel supported. I feel like stress has been lifted off of my shoulders.

With their first year of college well underway, Mu and Giles-Quiroz feel grateful to make Saint Mary’s home for the next three years.

“Aside from soccer, the thing I appreciate about Saint Mary’s is the connections I’ve made with my professors,” Mu said. “Because I know my professors, and they’re knowledgeable in their fields, I know they can help me in the future as I consider careers.”

“At Saint Mary’s, I appreciate the community,” Giles-Quiroz said. “It’s a small campus, and everybody knows everybody. People here look out for each other and want the best for everyone.”

Photo caption: Diego Giles-Quiroz (left) and Eh Mu (right) 

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