Meet The Inaugural 2014 Class of Scholarship America Dream Award Recipients
The Scholarship America Dream Award was established to provide growing, renewable scholarships to help current college students complete their degrees. After reviewing thousands of applications, the Dream Award Selection Committee chose the twelve remarkable students below as the first class of recipients; they were introduced to the nation on the May 23 episode of Katie, the daytime talk show hosted by Dream Award supporter Katie Couric. Here are their remarkable stories.
Sarah Ashcraft credits her grandmother for her success in life. “I have lived with my grandma my entire life,” she says, because her parents were addicted to drugs and alcohol. “Every time my mom came around, my life would spiral … struggling in school, nightmares, crying fits.” This did not stop Sarah from succeeding – she developed an active community life donating blood annually, cooking for the fireman’s open house, serving meals to the homeless, face painting at her local Chiari walk and using her singing talents at a local nursing home. Today, Sarah is a psychology major entering her sophomore year at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Sarah plans to graduate in three years and continue on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees, in order to achieve her dream: to be a clinical psychologist. “I want to help people help themselves,” she says.
On Aug. 2, 2011, Mirrella Bautista’s mother and brother were deported. That’s when the college junior began experiencing chronic health issues: non-epileptic seizures, hypoglycemia and an irregular heartbeat. Still, Mirrella, who is studying education and political science at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California, has maintained a respectable grade point average of 3.34 – while working as a nanny and assistant, and assisting with planning and facilitating educational conferences, among other activities. Last May, an 18-wheeler collided into Mirrella’s car, leaving her with a painful back injury. And yet she says, “My biggest burden is funding my education. I have to work all year to pay my tuition.” Mirrella dreams of earning her master’s degree in Education someday, with a special emphasis on Special Education.
“My goal in life is to achieve a career in Architectural Drafting and Engineering, a mundane statement to some, but a dream to me. It’s the kind of thing I was born to do,” says Ryan Bosela, who will be a sophomore at Pittsburgh Technical Institute in the fall. The road to college hasn’t been easy for Ryan, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder, a form of autism, as a young child. When he was just five years old, Ryan began having seizures, which eventually became so frequent and severe that brain surgery was the only option. At the start of seventh grade, Ryan had three sections of his brain removed to stop the seizures. The surgery hasn’t stopped his community achievements: he has since become an active volunteer for his local fire department, the blood drive, health fair and his church through his association with the Boy Scouts, in which Ryan has both earned the highest honor – Eagle Scout – and been made a Junior Scoutmaster. “Despite the Asperger’s, the seizures and the financial challenges, focusing on my future goals became my dream and driving force,” Ryan says.
Emelin Garcia Nieto
Emelin Garcia Nieto will be graduating summa cum laude with degrees in biology and Spanish next spring from Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina. Her goal is to attend Loyala University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine – the only DACA-friendly medical school in the country, and where she will attend an exclusive summer enrichment program called ASPIRE, for which only 15 students were chosen nationwide. “My parents and I are undocumented. I started working at age 15 so that I could contribute to the family income. Affording my college education has been a struggle,” she says. Emelin’s goal is to eventually practice in the field of Pediatrics and complete her residency in a medically-underserved community. She is a dedicated volunteer translator and teen mentor, and dreams of working with children who do not have access to adequate health care. During school breaks, Emelin works two or three jobs to cover college expenses. “Despite the disadvantages and adversities I have had to face in trying to reach my dreams, they have always served as a motivation to work harder and never give up,” says Emelin.
“Successful and accomplished college student” and “homeless youth” do not typically go hand-in-hand, but for Charlene Hinton, those descriptions are just the tip of the iceberg. Charlene will be starting her third year majoring in Information Technology at Syracuse University in New York in August, a place she describes as providing both her education and “the most basic needs: food and shelter.” Charlene became homeless the summer before she started her first year at Syracuse. Despite needing to work to cover costs, Charlene is an excellent student who also volunteers many hours of web development work and youth mentoring to local community organizations. Her dream is to become a CIO and contribute to the advancement of humanity through technology. “Failure is no longer an F on a transcript; it is living on the streets and feeling the too familiar pangs of hunger,” Charlene says.
Luis Loza, an accomplished athlete, volunteer and student, double-majoring in Electronics Engineering Technology and Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering Technology at Northern Kentucky University, nearly lost his opportunity to attend college when he learned of his undocumented legal status. Luis’s mother had recently been forced to return to her home country, Mexico, and was unable to return. Fortunately, Luis and his brother were adopted by their caretaker, who researched options for the boys and found DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) which allows a college education and employment for two years – but no access to federal financial aid. As a result, Luis – who is two credits shy from being a sophomore – has worked many different jobs to help cover his tuition, including working as a hay stacker, tutor, painter, farm worker, house cleaner and yard worker. “Thirty years from now, I would consider my life successful if I were able to support my family and provide a peaceful home life while having a profession that fulfills me,” says Luis.
Hector Najarro’s single mother brought her three children to the U.S. in hopes of giving them a better life. Last year, Hector joined his two older sisters in achieving the American dream of a college education. Before attaining citizenship, uncertain immigration status made it hard for the family to find sufficient funding. But, as Hector says, “the importance of attaining a college degree has never failed to become the top priority for anyone in this family.” Attending high school in Norcross, Georgia, Hector devoted himself to academics, volunteering and activities. He served as captain of his school’s Science Olympiad and National Academic Quiz teams, and volunteered for everything from bilingual translation to road cleanup to the March of Dimes. Now a sophomore engineering student at Georgia Tech, Hector’s ultimate goal is to give back: “Growing up in a community where the majority of students are underprivileged … I have vowed to go back and help these students find the right path to bettering their lives through education.”
The path to college was neither straight nor smooth for Los Angeles native Lucy Tang. The youngest of five siblings, Lucy’s parents are Vietnamese-Chinese refugees whose education was cut short after elementary school. Her father is unable to work due to a disability; her elder sister suffers from a severe form of autism, and her brother has had trouble with youth gang involvement. “I was expected to be capable of figuring things out on my own, like college applications, career options and what my future held for me,” Lucy says. In addition to school and summer jobs, Lucy served as a volunteer leader for the Southeast Asian Community Alliance, whose director lauds her for being “incredibly smart, bold and articulate.” Her tireless work ethic and selfless volunteering led Lucy to the University of California – Berkeley, where she is now a sophomore. Lucy is studying political science and city planning, currently focusing on the ways street food vendors and food trucks can help foster community and economic development in neighborhoods like the one she grew up in.
University of California – Berkeley senior Rodrigo Telles is a year away from his chemical engineering degree – and a world away from where he started. When Rodrigo was just eight months old, his family moved to California’s Central Valley and found work as migrant farm laborers. The long hours and low pay didn’t leave much time or money for college, but Rodrigo’s high academic achievements, spirit of perseverance and resilience, volunteer resume and interest in science paved the road for him to attend Berkeley. He’s taken advantage of all that college has to offer – founding and leading a student chapter of the American Chemical Society, working as a volunteer web developer and programmer and tutoring everyone from elementary school students to college peers. Once he graduates, Rodrigo plans to follow his passion: “I intend to obtain a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and become a professor and applied researcher at a community college. Having seen the lack of resources and mentorship available to community college students interested in the sciences, I would like to be a teacher, resource and mentor to disadvantaged students.”
Stories like Shelby Wilson’s don’t often have happy endings. A victim of repeated sexual abuse starting when she was just five years old, Shelby found herself on her own at age 11. She was forced to provide for herself, deal with her emotional trauma and keep up with school; it would have been easy for her to fall through the cracks. Instead, Shelby’s strength in the face of these struggles has led to academic success and hope for the future. She became an A student at Woodlawn Magnet High School in Birmingham, Alabama, while working a number of part-time jobs with full-time hours. In high school, she was honored for her volunteering with Junior Achievement of Greater Birmingham, and promoted to Cadet Captain in the JROTC program. Now a sophomore at Mississippi State University, she is majoring in Biological Engineering and carrying a 4.0 GPA. Shelby has a “passion to leave lives in a state of improvement.” Shelby’s goal after graduation is to become a biomedical engineer and family physician, and to work with young women who have suffered trauma and lack support.
Janelle Wiser dreams of becoming a veterinarian – and the University of Findlay (Ohio) junior already has a lifetime of experience caring for both people and animals. When she was just two, her father left the family; her mother, diagnosed with cancer, had to raise Janelle and her sister alone. In 2007, just as Janelle was entering high school in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, her sister suffered severe brain damage in an auto accident. For Janelle, clubs and activities took a backseat to doctor’s appointments, full-time jobs and long hours helping with her sister’s rehab. Working with animals became her passion and her career goal; she adopted and rehabilitated an abused horse, training him to become a companion for special needs students. When the horse became sick, Janelle’s veterinarian helped make it possible for her to cover his medical expenses – and she hopes to pay that kindness forward. “I would love to be able to give animals and people a second chance, the way that she did for me,” Janelle says.
Just as Takashi Yanagi was beginning the college application process, his life was turned upside down. Takashi’s mother, who raised him as a single parent in their West Des Moines, Iowa home, lost her life to cancer, leaving the only child on his own. “I felt trapped in the deepest, darkest abyss of emptiness,” he says. “In the midst of my sadness, I was forced to take on a life of financial and domestic independence.” The combination of medical bills, living expenses and college tuition meant selling his house and car. Despite everything, Takashi graduated at the top of his class, volunteered regularly with his church and community and moved on to college. Now a junior at the University of Notre Dame, he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business and serving as a leader on his various school clubs and organizations including the Investment Club and the Student International Business Council. As his faculty mentor at Notre Dame says, “Takashi, unlike many of his peers, has had a truly difficult life. He is interested in solving problems and filling needs, and not the glamour of doing these things.”