Paying it Forward by Giving Back

Cisneros Scholars pose with Jacki and Gil Cisneros at the Power & Promise Scholarship Celebration 


The Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute provides students with college scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships, and offers a pre-college program for high school juniors who have demonstrated a commitment to leadership and service within the Hispanic community. A $7 million gift from Gilbert Cisneros, BA ’94, and his wife, Jacki created the institute, which is situated in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. The institute focuses on the issue of undermatching, which occurs when students of high academic potential—often from low-income communities—do not matriculate to selective universities, and instead enroll at universities they are overqualified to attend. Latinos are the most likely ethnic group to undermatch, but Gil and Jacki aim to change that.

“We want to take young Latino students out of their comfort zone. We want to teach them to be leaders. We want to encourage them to reach their full potential, and we want them to attend a selective university befitting of their academic achievements and their capabilities.”

– Gil Cisneros, BA '94

Born and raised in Southern California, Mr. Cisneros came to GW on an ROTC scholarship following a stint in the U.S. Navy. The first person in his family to attend college, he chose GW—in his words, “a giant leap”—because of his interest in politics and a desire to experience living on the East Coast.

At the university, he made lifelong friends, had new experiences, and learned from faculty members who routinely invited ambassadors and other distinguished guest speakers to his classes. That life-changing experience at GW became a catalyst for Mr. Cisneros’ engagement with the university. Through his philanthropy—which extends to GW’s Power and Promise financial aid initiative and GW Athletics—as well as his volunteer activities, he has enriched GW and created opportunities for students, faculty, and the broader community.

The new institute complements the university’s focused efforts to look for new ways of encouraging college attendance by students from a variety of backgrounds and ensuring their success on campus. Gil and Jacki’s generous gift is playing a crucial role in educating and developing the next generation of leaders of the Hispanic community and beyond.

Hear from Elizabeth Vaquera, the inaugural director of the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute, and from Cisneros Scholars who talk about how the institute is enabling and enhancing their GW experiences.


Cisneros Scholar: Abril Castro, CCAS ’18


Cisneros Scholar: Victoria Kyauka, ESIA BA ’17


Cisneros Scholar: Guillermo Martinez, CCAS ’18


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