Mountain View Voice

News - May 4, 2012

Opportunity awaits local grads

Community Scholars program helps low-income students reach college

by Nick Veronin

If all goes according to plan, Mountain View High School senior Carlos Marquez will begin taking classes at Cal Poly Pomona at the end of the summer.

It has been no cakewalk getting to this point. The teen's parents work tirelessly just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, he explains. They simply can't afford to make any significant dent in the estimated $22,000 per semester it will cost to attend the university.

Fortunately for Marquez, the Mountain View-Los Altos Community Scholars program was there to help — providing the teen with a four-year scholarship worth $16,000 and helping him navigate the complex college application process. On Friday, May 4, Marquez and 15 of other seniors from Mountain View, Los Altos and Alta Vista high schools are set to formally accept their scholarships in a ceremony at the Nuetra House in Los Altos.

The Scholars program was founded in 2000 specifically to help low-income, first-generation college students, like Marquez, according to Carolyn Pierce-Whang, one of the organization's board members. As the costs associated with attending college continue to rise, Pierce-Whang says it is challenging enough for high school graduates from middle class families to find ways to fund their higher education, but for students from low-income households, the task can seem downright impossible.

Los Altos High School senior and scholarship recipient Rashmeen Kaur is familiar with the feeling.

"Without their money, I could not go to college," she says, referring to the four-year scholarship totaling $14,000 that she was awarded by Community Scholars. "There were a lot of personal hardships we faced."

Kaur says she was "thrilled" and "super thankful" for the money, some of which she has already put to good use — attending a mandatory orientation session at her future school, San Jose State University. The orientation cost $215, which she said she would have had a hard time paying if it weren't for the scholarship.

The students say they are making up the rest of the tuition cost with a variety of loans, grants and other scholarships.

"These children have such severe challenges," says Pierce-Whang. It is the aim of the Scholars program to give students like Marquez and Kaur — who both come from families with little or no background in higher education — with "breakthrough opportunities" that will "open up the American Dream for them," she said.

This year's crop of 16 scholarship recipients were picked from among 52 applicants, according to Pierce-Whang. The four-year scholarships, which range from $1,000 per year to $4,000, were awarded to 10 girls and 6 boys; 10 of the students come from Mountain View High School; five are from Los Altos High School; and one is from Alta Vista High School.

Recipients were picked based upon applications, which asked a number of questions and required an essay.

Both Marquez and Kaur say they are excited to be going to college, where they plan to study computer science and engineering, respectively.

"I'm very proud of myself to even get this far and to be able to go to college," Marquez says. Not only is it a source of pride for him and his family, he says he believes his achievement will be an inspiration for members of his family, present and future. "I'll be setting the tone not only for my family but for future generations of my family."

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