A gift, for life

After her devastating loss, alumna Sandra Sandoval wanted to help others transform their lives.

By Lynne Winter

Publish Date: November 11, 2016

The numbers from the Centers for Disease Control are staggering:

  • Half of Americans will experience major depression in their lifetimes.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Men are four times more likely to succeed at suicide than women.

While the numbers provide facts, they don’t tell the whole story of how suicide’s affects reverberate like ripples on a pond, creating waves that either drown people in grief or inspire action. Alumna Sandra Sandoval (B.A. anthropology ’02) decided to take action by turning her family’s private pain into a gift for a future student.


Born and raised in Denver, Sandoval grew up in a modest, working-class household. Her father worked long hours and multiple jobs in order to take care of his family. He strongly encouraged Sandoval to pursue her education, telling her that life is better and that more opportunities are available with a college degree. Sadly, Sandoval’s father died from cancer during her freshman year of college and did not get to see her successfully complete her education.

A first-generation college student, Sandoval was unsure what direction she wanted to go with her studies when she enrolled at MSU Denver. She decided on a combination of subjects that complemented her strengths: a major in anthropology and a double minor in mechanical engineering and math. In 2002, Sandoval graduated with honors and found success and happiness in the field of electrical manufacturing.

In addition to her academic and professional life, Sandoval had a busy and full personal life. She married her high school sweetheart, and they decided to start a family. They became the proud parents of a baby girl.


From an outsider’s perspective, everything appeared to be going well; however, the outward appearance of success masked turmoil at home.

In addition to undiagnosed mental health issues, Sandoval’s husband had preexisting conditions that caused his physical health to suffer. His attempts to self-medicate his pain developed into an addiction, which threw the family into chaos. Aware that her husband needed more help than she could provide, Sandoval encouraged him to seek professional help. He resisted, convinced that neither his depression nor his addiction were problems that warranted treatment.

Last year, Sandoval’s husband became overwhelmed by his attempts to manage his chronic emotional and physical pain. Feeling that the struggles he faced were insurmountable, he committed suicide. Shocked and shattered after her husband’s death, Sandoval, her daughter and extended family wanted to focus on finding peace and move forward.


Sandoval had never given to MSU Denver before but she was inspired by a simple email that arrived on Dec. 1, 2015. It was Roadrunner Tuesday – MSU Denver Foundation’s campaign to raise $5,050 in one day, in honor of the University’s 50th anniversary – and she made a gift for the entire amount.

While no one from Advancement had talked to her prior to Roadrunner Tuesday, Sandoval recognized the impact she could make. Allyssa Joseph, assistant director of annual giving, called Sandoval to thank her and invite her to lunch. Sandoval shared her story and then committed an additional $1,000 per year to support the scholarship.

Working with alumni association and foundation staff, she established the Life Matters Annual Scholarship to support a student in need, with the hopes that he or she will embrace the wonder of living. “I wanted to give an opportunity to a deserving student and help them in accomplishing their goal of getting a degree,” said Sandoval.


In founding the Life Matters Annual Scholarship, she wants to encourage those who are struggling with addiction and depression to get help. 

“You only get one chance at living,” she said. “You can be happy, and there are many people who are willing to help. If my husband knew how many people needed him, or if he had just reached out to one person, we could have helped or found someone to help. You have to take that first step and reach out. Nothing stays the same. A year from now. A month from now. Everything changes. It can, and will, get better.”

Sandoval is optimistic that students will benefit from her message of hope. She hopes that the student who receives the Life Matters Annual Scholarship that she funded will take the opportunity to celebrate all that life has to offer.

“Life is beautiful and I want to ensure other individuals are embracing life’s splendor,” she said. “Life is a gift, and no matter the struggle, it’s always worth living.”

You can share in Sandra Sandoval’s vision by giving to the Life Matters Annual Scholarship. Contact Allyssa Joseph at ajoseph9@msudenver.edu or 303-556-6934.


If you or a loved one suffer from mental illness or addiction there is hope – and help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If you or a loved one need immediate help, call 24/7: 1-800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness

MSU Denver Counseling Center