UC Berkeley freshman receives scholarship for fight against HIV/AIDS

Woman poses against white pillar with her hand resting upon it. Her body is facing away from the camera as she smiles back into the camera.
Mona Bandov /Courtesy

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UC Berkeley freshman Mona Bandov received $5,000 for her commitment to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic after the National AIDS Memorial Grove announced the 10 undergraduate recipients of the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship on Monday.

According to the press release, the 10 scholarship recipients were honored on World AIDS Day and represent communities from nine states. A total of $50,000 was awarded in scholarships through grants provided by Gilead Sciences and Wells Fargo.

“I am extremely grateful for this opportunity because as a first-generation college student, I realized that anything is attainable if one puts their mind to it,” Bandov said in an email.

The Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship is named in honor of AIDS educator, activist and reality television personality Pedro Zamora, who died 25 years ago from an AIDS-related illness, according to the press release.

The scholarship “supports the academic efforts of emerging young leaders who share Pedro’s passionate commitment to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said development manager of the National AIDS Memorial Grove Steve Sagaser in an email. “Since 2009, we have awarded $250,000 to young leaders nationwide.”

According to Sagaser, Zamora was Cuban American and one of the first openly gay men with AIDS portrayed in popular media. Zamora brought international attention to HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ+ issues and prejudices through his appearance on MTV’s reality television series “The Real World: San Francisco.”

“The long-term objective of the Scholarship is to help achieve an AIDS-free generation by incentivizing and supporting young leaders committed to fighting the disease,” Sagaser said in an email. He added that the scholarship provides incentive and support for recipients to stay engaged in HIV prevention, treatment, advocacy and other efforts.

Bandov said in her email that she intends to major in molecular and cell biology with an emphasis on immunology and pathogenesis. She added that she hopes to join the Peace Corps in the future and earn a master’s degree in global public health or become a medical anthropologist.

According to Bandov, she found her passion through volunteering and interning. As a sophomore in high school, Bandov interned at an obstetrician-gynecologist department in the Dominican Republic and interacted with patients who were affected by HIV/AIDS.

Bandov soon after became a public policy and advocacy intern for Until There’s A Cure, a nonprofit organization that raises funds, awareness and education around HIV/AIDS, according to her email.

She added that she wants to become involved in campus research that focuses on viruses in different communities and work internationally with organizations that provide accessible health care for all.

“I truly believe that healthcare should not be a luxury, it should be a basic human right. I would love to bridge the gap between healthcare and people,” Bandov said in the email. “I hope to one day become a part of a project that can really make a difference in our society.”

Thao Nguyen covers student life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tnguyen_dc.