SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- When Melissa Arana, a foreign exchange student from Panama, left everything behind to study at University of San Diego, one thing she didn't leave back was her passion for community service.
"I was involved in Panama at National Honors Society, I created our Meals on Wheels foundation at my school, so I held a lot of leadership roles,” Arana told ABC 10News.
Last month, Arana was one of four walking across the stage from the first cohort of MacDonald Community scholars.
The program gives students money towards tuition and in return, students volunteer at least 10 hours per week, every week during their school years.
Recipients of the scholarship program volunteer their time in underserved communities across the county at sports fields, churches, schools or in Arana's case, restaurants in Logan Heights.
"I was able to work with a few restaurants for a Logan Heights community, and create QR codes and help the food industry during the pandemic survive, by using more technology methods,” Arana said.
Not only did she use her engineering background and experience to help the Latino community in the South Bay, but Arana said she was able to connect with members through her native language, as well.
"In some way, this scholarship opened the door to know the San Diego community and expand those boundaries than just the catholic institution at USD,” said Arana.
Arana clocked in about 1,000 volunteer hours, something she said she'll value forever and plans to continue long after graduation.
"It fills my heart. It's something I love to do so I'll find time post-graduation when I start my new job,” she told ABC 10News.