Hungry chocolate fans peruse the selection of chocolatey treats at this years Santa Cruz Chocolate Festival. Photo by Ryan Tuttle

The Cocoanut Grove at the Beach Boardwalk hosted the Fourth Annual Chocolate Festival this Sunday to raise scholarship money for UCSC re-entry students. Organized by the UCSC Women’s Club, the festival was expected to raise thousands of dollars.

This year the three-hour festival featured a cookbook signing with local chef Jake Gandolfo. The event offered door prizes, live jazz music by the band Hold Tight, and chocolate samples from 29 vendors.

During the past 30 years, the UCSC Women’s Club has awarded 294 scholarships totaling $178,242. The Chocolate Festival, just in its first three years, has raised more than $40,000. Event chair Lorraine Margon said the funding the Women’s Club provides is unique.

“We provide scholarships that fall in between other kinds of financial aid for students,” Margon said. “Often we are able to pay for things that other kinds of financial support do not. We pay for child care, research activities and summer programs that sort of slip through the cracks otherwise.”

To be awarded a scholarship, students must outline a proposal of what the money is needed for. A panel of judges reviews each proposal and the awardees are honored at a special brunch in the spring.

Joanna Nelson, a fifth-year environmental studies Ph.D. candidate, used her $1,500 scholarship to conduct research.

“I needed to look at really cutting-edge methods to measure part of the nitrogen cycle,” Nelson said. “The really world class place [for] doing that was Horn Point Lab at the University of Maryland. My proposal was to work with two professors there that I had been in contact with and train with them. That’s what the scholarship let me do.”

The Women’s Club scholarship application is available through a special service for re-entry students on campus. UCSC’s Services for Transfer and Re-Entry Students (STARS) is an on-campus resource that partners with the Women’s Club in promoting their scholarships.

Sarah Emmert, a fourth-year psychology major and single mother, received a Women’s Club scholarship to take summer courses at UCSC. She said she would not have known about the Women’s Club scholarship had she not connected with the STARS program.

“STARS has been such a valuable resource for me,” Emmert said. “Since I began at UCSC, I have found out about all my scholarships through them.”

The Women’s Club has a special connection to re-entry students, as many of their members identify as such.

“There are a number of women in the group that have gone back to school and are re-entry students too,” Margon said. “I went back to college twice as an adult.”

Eric Arce, a fourth-year Latin American and Latino studies major, is using his $1,000 award to study in Spain.

“I’ve always wanted to travel and live in another country,” he said. “However, the cost has always made it pretty difficult. With the help of scholarships, I finally was able to pursue a lifelong dream.”

The Santa Cruz Chocolate Festival is an opportunity to indulge and raise money. Event chair Margon summed it up succinctly.

“It’s chocolate without the guilt, because it’s for a good cause.”