America’s Next Top Ranger
Outdoor enthusiast, CSUEB senior Celeste Morales awarded CSU Trustees Scholarship
Cal State East Bay senior Celeste Morales remembers everything about her first-ever camping trip. The stars twinkled. Her sleeping bag was cozy and warm after a day of hiking to waterfalls. And dinner was cooked over a fire.
Four years later, Morales is working to ensure students, just like her, have access to the outdoors. And thanks to this year’s CSU Trustees Scholarship, she can worry less about where she’ll find the money to pay for school and more about finishing her degree and securing her dream job working on America’s public lands.
“As an inner-city kid from a family who never really explored nature, the exposure I had was limited to the neighborhood I lived in, not stretching much further than my apartment complex park,” Morales said. “To travel to a different location and sleep outside for the first time, underneath the stars, was breathtaking.”
Morales is one of 23 students (one from each CSU campus) who received this year’s Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. She and others will be recognized during a virtual ceremony on Sept. 22.
“These diverse and distinguished students wonderfully exemplify the CSU’s core values of academic achievement and service to the community,” said CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White. “All of these scholars have overcome unique challenges on their educational journeys, and their stories have left an indelible positive impact on their families, communities and the state of California.”
As the CSU’s highest recognition of student achievement, the awards offer scholarships to students who have demonstrated academic excellence, community service and financial need. Many, like Morales, are the first in their families to attend college.
A transfer student from Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, Morales chose Cal State East Bay because it was close to home, and she knew she wanted to study recreation management.
It’s a field she was already familiar with, having worked with the city of Antioch straight out of high school at the department’s water park before working her way up to recreation program coordinator.
Morales now works as Antioch’s senior recreation leader, organizing hands-on events and programming, including the city’s first-ever youth employment fair and a bug day, which featured dozens of animals and critters, and 300 regional participants.
“[I enjoy] trying to help other community members explore the land around them,” Morales said.
She also wants to bring more representation to the outdoors.
“Many people are beginning to realize that people of color don’t have access to parklands,” Morales said. “I know that as a minority, I’m able to be that image to help and guide others with the opportunity to explore our parks. Learning goes beyond the four walls of a classroom, and nature should be explored by all.”
With her eyes set on a future job at one of the country’s national parks, Morales is part of the National Park Academy and was supposed to be spending the summer interning at Yellowstone National Park, though it was canceled due to COVID-19. She’s still hopeful for a spot in the My Access to Network Opportunities at Death Valley National Park, but she’s finding ways to continue exploring both outdoor spaces and what her future holds even if it doesn’t happen.
“I’m not limited to where I came from,” Morales said. “Having been selected to receive this award has given me the strength to continue pursuing my academic goal of obtaining a degree and helps alleviate the stress and financial burden that comes with higher education. [It] will allow me to focus more on the most important aspect of school, learning.”
In addition, Morales, who also participated in the university’s GANAS and EOP programs, said she’s talking a lot to her extended family about pursuing college, especially her sister.
“As a first-generation college student being raised in a single-parent household, and as one of the oldest siblings, the struggles we faced financially have been my motivation to continue my educational journey,” she said. “Also, I hope to be an inspiration to not only my siblings but to other youths who faced the same life challenges.”